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A new alternative to marriage for heterosexual couples in the UK

Posted on 21st January 2020

Many congratulations to Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan who formed a civil partnership on 31 December 2019. The union is notable for being the first mixed-sex civil partnership recognised by law; a right achieved after the couple’s five-year legal battle settled by a landmark ruling the Supreme Court in 2018.

Civil partnerships were first legalised in 2004 however this was exclusively for couples of the same-sex. Therefore, prior to 31 December 2019, mixed-sex couples who objected to marriage would not be able to take advantage of beneficial legal rights.

Unbeknownst to many, the term “common law partner”, usually referring to long-standing cohabitees, does not afford couples any legal rights in respect of inheritance or tax allowances. Civil partnerships of same-sex or mixed-sex are however recognised legally and are treated equally to couples who choose to marry.

How does a civil partnership affect a Will?

Similarly to the act of marriage, the act of forming a civil partnership will revoke your existing will unless the will explicitly refers to being made in contemplation of the said civil partnership. If you do not have a will at the date of your death, your estate will pass in accordance with the rigid rules of intestacy.

How does a civil partnership affect Probate and Estate Administration?

If there is a valid will at the date of death, then the appointed executors have a legal duty to ensure the terms of the will are upheld.

If there is not a valid will, then a surviving civil partner may apply to become the personal representative of the estate. The role of a personal representative is similar to that of an executor such that they are responsible for ensuring the estate is administered legally and therefore in accordance with the laws of intestacy.

Under the laws of intestacy, spouses and civil partners are treated equally. Therefore if the deceased was survived by a civil partner and children, the estate would be divided as follows:

  1. The civil partner will receive the personal belongings of the deceased.
  2. The civil partner will receive the first £250,000 of the estate and half of the remainder of the estate.
  3. The other half of the remainder of the estate will pass equally between children.

How does a civil partnership affect Lasting Powers of Attorney?

The answer to this is simple – it doesn’t. Similar to the expression “common law partner”, the phrase “next-of-kin” does not provide anyone with the legal authority to make decisions on behalf of loved ones.

Whether you are a spouse, civil partner, cohabitee or close friend, you will not have the legal authority to make decisions about a person’s finances or health without a valid Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) made by the person in question.

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