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Setting up Home with Tom, Dick or Harriet: Don't Forget Will!

View profile for Paul Hajek
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At least one third of people who die fail to make adequate provision for the division of their assets.

And 4 out of 5 couples who live together and are not married or in a civil partnership believe they do not need to make a Will. They believe that their property will automatically go to their cohabitee on death.

A couple of matters have brought this into focus recently. One much publicised, the death at 33 of the pop star Stephen Gately and one less so, the Law Commission’s proposals to extend rights on death automatically to couples who are not married or in a Civil Partnership.

At present, your home can automatically pass on death to your spouse or civil partner, where what is known as a joint tenancy exists. This not automatically, the case, where the property is held by the spouses or civil partners as tenants in common.

The Intestacy Rules will apply where a couple are not married or in a civil partnership,. These strict rules give priority to blood relatives, including half blood relatives.

The only remedy available would be expensive legal proceedings, where in summary, the survivor would need to show he or she was being “maintained” (a legal definition) by the deceased.

The oft heard phrase “common law” wife simply does not exist in a legal context.

Now, the Law Commission, an independent body in England and Wales set up to advise the Government on legal reform has suggested some radical proposals.

Chiefly, it wants to give automatic rights to inherit for non married and non civil partners, where either the couple have lived together for 5 years or there are no children of the relationship.

Lesser rights would also be available to cohabitees who have lived together for 2 years rather than 5 years.

The Law Commission is aware of the controversial nature of its proposals.

My feelings are that the political and religious arguments make it unlikely that these proposals will see the light of day in the near future.

The overriding advice must still be to make your Will and avoid all the potential problems which might follow.

There is even no excuse because you are too young, as the tragic case of Stephen Gately demonstrates