Don’t want to be tied down? Don’t worry, she can have all your money anyway…

15 December 2011

wedding cake What is the point of marriage these days? Even leader of the opposition Ed Miliband couldn’t be bothered until he was advised it would look better to the voting public. Still, there are some tax advantages, but a biggie on the plus side of marriage is to do with what happens to your assets on death.

Where a person dies “intestate”, that is without leaving a valid will disposing of the whole of his or her property, the distribution of any money and other assets among surviving family members is governed by a set of legal rules known as the intestacy rules. While these rules recognise marriage and civil partnerships, they have no truck with unmarried sorts, and common-law partners, even if they have been so for many years, will primarily be excluded from any benefit on death.

The Law Commision has now published a report which includes recommendations for reform of the law to improve and simplify the intestacy process, and to make sure ‘er indoors can get some cash.

The main recommendations include:

>  making sure that where a couple are married or in a civil partnership, assets pass on intestacy to the surviving spouse in all cases where there are no children or other descendants, as currently parents or remoter relatives could get some of your cash

>  simplifying the sharing of assets on intestacy where the deceased was survived by a spouse and children or other descendants;

>  protecting children who suffer the death of a parent from the risk of losing an inheritance from that parent in the event that they are adopted after the death;

>  amending the legal rules which currently disadvantage unmarried fathers when a child dies intestate;

However, the Law Commission also recommends that further provisions should be introduced that would give certain unmarried partners who have lived together for five years the right to inherit on each other’s death under the intestacy rules. Where the couple have a child together, this entitlement would accrue after two years’ cohabitation, provided the child was living with the couple when the deceased died.

At this stage, these are merely recommendations, and there is no guarantee that the provisions drawn up by the Law Commission will ever become law. This would be a significant move away from the supposed sanctity of marriage, but some would argue, is more representative of today’s society. Also, the current Inheritance Tax rules only offer exemption from tax on transfers between spouses, and there are no current plans to amend them. Should the intestacy rules change, however, HMRC may be forced to look again at the definition of a spouse.

But until that point you are left with two options- get married, or draw up a Will. Both excellent plans of action of course…


  • M W.
    Burn them! They're living in sin! Burn the sinners!
  • Richard
    …or you can have hers.

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