The definition of “family” is changing. It used to be the nuclear unit of husband, wife and 2.4 children. Although the divorce rate has been going down recently, numbers of cohabitants are rising. And the belief you can be a “common law” husband or wife still exists, despite it being a myth. So what constitutes a family and is this going to change in the eyes of the law?
When it comes to the Rules of Intestacy, i.e. what happens when someone dies without a Will, should cohabiting couples be treated in the same way as married couples or civil partners?
Currently, a cohabitant whose partner dies must go to Court for financial provision from their partner’s estate, regardless of how long they lived together or if they had children together. They are not automatically entitled to anything.
At least this is better than Washington, USA, which does not give any recognition to cohabiting couples. But not as good as British Columbia, Canada (and multiple other states and countries), which treats cohabitants in the same way as spouses.
What about if there is more than one “spouse”? In British Columbia, the division is determined by agreement between the spouses, which sounds like it could be fraught with problems to us! New Zealand law allows equal sharing between multiple spouses. Norwegian law prevents recognition of cohabitation where the deceased was also married.
And should stepchildren be treated in the same way as biological or adopted children under the Rules of Intestacy, who automatically inherit? They are not at the moment and would have to go to Court to prove they were treated as a “child of the family” or were financially dependent on the deceased.
This shows that the Rules of Intestacy may always be flawed, no matter how the law changes them, as the definition of family evolves and the law struggles to keep up with it. If you want to protect your family, whoever that is and whatever that might mean, the best thing to do is to consult a solicitor to draft a properly constructed Will. Then there will be nothing for you to worry about, or rather for your family to worry about, after you die.
We are here to help with your Will, whatever your circumstances. Please contact:
- Tom or Monika at our Yeadon office on 0333 3449609
- Kiranjeet or Christina at our Pudsey office on 0333 3449607