Is it time to say I do? The Legal side of marriage explained.

Thursday 9th February 2023

It’s February, and romance is in the air!

With so many marriage proposals this month, we thought it was a perfect time to explore what marriage and cohabitation can mean for your Will and inheritance. Not the most romantic way to think about it, but it’s necessary to protect yourself and your future.

Does an unmarried partner have inheritance rights?

Where an unmarried partner dies intestate, the surviving partner will receive nothing under the intestacy rules.

Am I entitled to inherit my partner's house if I live there?

If you hold your property as tenants in common, you will each have a share of the property.  You will have to appoint a beneficiary to inherit your share of the property in your Will. This could be your partner.

Alternatively, you might hold your property as joint tenants. Property owned as joint tenants will pass to the survivor, regardless of marriage.

If you do not have any ownership rights to the property, you will not inherit the property, even if you live there.

What else can you do to protect yourself outside of marriage?

Ensure that you are both joint owners when buying a home together outside of marriage to protect you. Our conveyancing team can help assist you with this.

What Changes when you get married?

Once married, your existing Will is revoked, and you must create a new one unless your current one was drafted in contemplation of marriage.

Banking and Joint Accounts when married

A joint account is owned jointly if you are married, regardless of who puts the money into the account. If you are living together and have separate accounts, neither of you can access the money held in the other partner's account. When it comes to a partner dying, If you are married and you and your spouse have separate bank accounts, the bank may allow you to withdraw the balance providing the amount is small. If you are cohabiting, however, and one partner dies, any balance in the account will be the property of your partner's estate and cannot be used until the estate is settled.

What happens to your Children when you are married?

When living together outside of marriage, the mother can appoint a guardian to act on her death, and the father can appoint a guardian if he has parental responsibility for the child.  After marriage, either parent can appoint a guardian to act in the event of both parents dying. Appointing guardians of your children in your Will is not legally binding but will be a clear indicator of your first choice if the issue ever arose.

If there is no Will, the child of unmarried or married parents has a legal right to inherit from both parents and the families of the parents. Please speak to our Wills team for help with this.

What happens to your Inheritance after you get married?

As a married couple, if you haven’t made a Will, the surviving partner will inherit all or some of the estate, depending on its worth. If you are living together and your partner hasn’t made a Will, the surviving partner does not automatically inherit anything unless you own the property jointly. Also, if you inherit a property or money from an unmarried partner, you aren’t exempt from paying inheritance tax as married couples are. Please speak to our Wills team to protect yourself and your loved ones. If you already have a Will in place, it’s very important to note that your married status will void your current Will, so it’s very important to redo your existing Will.

Whether you are married, engaged or unmarried and cohabiting, our team are here to provide advice and help you to get the protection you need. Please get in touch with our teams based in Plymouth and Ivybridge.