Relationship status changed? Update your will, not your Facebook profile!

You might have seen this story in the media recently.

Norman and Maureen Martin were married, with twin girls.

In 1994, Norman moved out of the matrimonial home to live with Joy Williams, who had four children by a previous marriage.

In 2009, Joy and Norman bought a three-bedroom house together in Dorset.

Then, in 2012, Norman unexpectedly had a heart attack and died.

Joy and Norman had owned the property as ‘tenants in common, not as ‘joint tenants’ – this means his share didn’t automatically pass to her when he died.

Norman had never got divorced and didn’t update his will, so 50% of the house value, plus 50% of his assets, was due to Maureen.

Joy had intended to retire in 2012, but continued to work at Dorset County Hospital. Even so, she was living at around subsistence level in quite straitened circumstances. Meanwhile, Maureen and their daughters were well provided for.

Joy went to Central London County Court, where Judge Nigel Gerald ruled that it was fair and reasonable that she should retain an absolute interest in the house – now worth £335,000 according to Zoopla.

The order was made for ‘reasonable financial provision’ under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

To win the case, Joy’s legal team had to establish that she’d been living in a loving and committed relationship with Norman, and was maintained either wholly or partly by him, in the two years prior to his death.

Maureen’s legal team argued that she was still Norman’s wife, they weren’t estranged, and that he wasn’t maintaining Joy as required under the relevant law. On losing the case, Maureen was ordered to pay £100,000 in costs. Daughter, Louise, said the decision was most unfair and they intend to appeal.

‘Common law’ is an urban myth

You need to be aware that there is no such thing as a common law husband or wife. Couples who live together do not automatically have the same rights as married couples and those in a civil partnership.

This is yet another case that highlights the need for co-habiting laws to be reformed.

In order to achieve security, you need to consider your financial position in relation to your partner, draw up a co-habitation agreement outlining who owns property and how bills are divided, and have an up-to-date will in place.

When did you last check that your will is current?

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