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Most people favour inheritance rights for cohabitants

New research suggests that most people believe that cohabitants should have automatic inheritance rights if their partner dies without having made a will.

This is in contrast to the law as it stands at the moment which, contrary to popular belief, gives cohabitants no automatic right to inherit their partner’s estate if there is no will in place.

The research was carried out by the National Centre for Social Research on behalf of the Law Commission which is reviewing intestacy law.

The survey showed that more than half of those questioned believed cohabitants should have inheritance rights if their partner dies intestate - that is, without having made a will. This support was even higher for cohabitants who had children together and were in a long term relationship.

For example, 93% of people believe a cohabitant should receive a share of the estate if the relationship had lasted longer than 10 years.

Apart from the issue of cohabitation, there was broad support for the intestacy rules as they stand at the moment. A total of 63% of people were in favour of ensuring that the estate passes to the surviving spouse rather than parents.

After spouses, most people favoured the estate passing to the children, again reflecting the current rules.

Rather worryingly, only 37% of those questioned had made a will - although that figure rises with age, with 82% of people over 75 having made a will.

The Law Commission’s review may eventually lead to a change in the law but in the meantime, the only way cohabiting couples can ensure their estate passes to their partner is to make a will.

Married couples and single people should also make a will and keep it up to date to ensure that their estate is divided according to their wishes rather than in ways laid down by the law.

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