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Triumph for a cohabitee in an inheritance act claim

This week the court made history by awarding Ms Joy Williams, a half share in her deceased partner’s house. Ms Williams had lived with Mr Norman Martin, for nearly 20 years, and in 2009 they bought a property together in Dorset.

The problem was that Mr Martin had never formally divorced from his wife and neither had he made a Will leaving his share to Ms Williams. The property was held as tenants in common instead of as joint tenants, which meant that each party’s share would pass on death according to their Will or the rules of intestacy. Therefore Mr Martin’s share automatically passed to Mrs Martin on his death.

Ms Williams made a claim for reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975.

Judge Nigel Gerald found that Ms Williams and Mr Martin had in “all material aspects” lived as husband and wife, and decided that she should be entitled to Mr Martin’s share of the property as well as her own share.

Ms Williams stated that she needed to bring the claim to campaign for cohabitees because “this level of serious relation is not currently recognised by the law” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-35589807)

This is yet another example and call for the out of date legal notion that cohabitees are only afforded second class rights to be brought in line with modern society.

Many people are still under the misconception that the length and commitment of any relationship will grant rights akin to those in a marriage, but this is clearly not the case. If you are in a cohabiting relationship, then the best way to protect your partner is to enter into a cohabitation agreement, hold your property as joint tenants, and/or ensure you make a Will clearly setting out your wishes on death, in order to avoid the situation that Ms Williams found herself in.

Whilst justice was done in the end, prevention is always better than cure; litigation is expensive, risky and time consuming. Ms Williams is seeking £100,000 costs from Mrs Martin, when the half share they were fighting about was only about £160,000.