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Co-habiting Court Case Shows the Law is Outdated

05 Jun 2016

Posted in Family Law

For many years good local solicitors involved in family law, as well as wills and probate have warned co-habiting couples about the need to make sure they are legally protected.

Whilst this message gets through to some, there is still a lot of work that needs doing and it is therefore opportune that we highlight the recent case of Joy Williams. She had lived with her former partner, Norman Martin for 18 years unmarried and now after a tumultuous four year battle with his family has just won the right to inherit a share of his estate.

Through their long relationship, Mr Martin remained married to his wife, Maureen Martin but Judges have now ruled that Joy Williams can make a claim against the estate of her former partner.

Up until his death in 2012, the couple lived together in a property in Dorset, but as tenants-in-common it meant that when he died the property did not automatically pass to Joy Williams.

Their negligence in not seeing a solicitor has caused a legal nightmare. If they had owned the property as joint tenants it would have passed automatically to the survivor.

However, the judge explained that she was entitled to make a claim against the estate of Martin saying it was a “fair and reasonable result,” and she should now inherit half the value of the property, which should be over £150,000. The judge had said she should “retain an absolute interest” in the house where she and her partner had lived in a committed relationship.

Whilst this has brought to an end a tough few years for Joy Williams, the wife of Mr Martin, Maureen Martin, 73, who separated from her husband back in 1994, has been ordered to pay £100,000 on account of costs within six weeks pending a detailed assessment.

Whilst we at Pindoria Solicitors find this case of great legal interest, the more important message to the public is clear. Couples living together have to see a solicitor to ensure they have a cohabitation agreement in place, make up-to-date wills and possibly take further action in relation to inheritance tax planning.

This case is very much a tale of the modern age, where many couples believe someone has legal protection when their partner leaves or passes away.

Following her victory, Joy Williams said wished to put a spotlight on the current flaws in a law made for an era now passed. “I hope my situation raises awareness for others to consider their own financial position in relation to their partner and consider whether they need to take advice to protect each other in future,” she said.

This tale in which both the wife and the partner have lost so much was so easily avoided with a cohabitation agreement or a declaration of trust.

We trust and hope anyone reading this in a similar situation will take action. At Pindoria Solicitors we are happy to help with cohabitation agreements and thereby put many people’s minds at ease.