Deathbed Marriages

A coalition of legal organisations call on the Government to increase protections for cohabiting couples following a rise in deathbed marriages.

In a letter to the Guardian a coalition of legal organisations and charities including Resolution, the Bar Council, the Law Society, Relate, Rights of Women, OnlyMums and OnlyDads have urged ministers to tackle the myth of common law marriage and update legislation.

Cohabiting couples

Cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type in the UK. Two thirds of cohabiting couples do not know that there is no such thing as common law marriage. Cohabiting couples often mistakenly believe that they have the same legal and financial protections as married couples. Under the law as it currently stands it is possible to live with someone for decades and walk away without any financial responsibility.

The lack of rights for cohabiting couples can be a particular problem upon the death of one of the parties. Cohabiting couples are exposed to inheritance tax they cannot claim certain benefits and have no rights to their partner’s pension when a partner dies and this can leave them in a precarious financial position. In the absence of a Will the deceased’s estate falls under the intestacy rules which could mean the estate passing to a party that the deceased would never have intended. The surviving party is often left with limited rights over their partner’s estate.

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Death bed marriages

There is evidence from the Home Office and the Passport Office of a rise in applications for urgent marriages, particularly in hospitals in the last year. The best protection for cohabiting couples is to get married and this is why there has been a rise in death bed weddings. Ken Dodd married his long term partner of 40 years two days before he died in the most high profile death bed marriage this year.

The coalition of organisations want the Government to ensure minimum basic protections for cohabiting couples. They also want the Government to raise public awareness of the lack of public protections in place for cohabiting couples. The view of the organisations is that only by understanding that they are at risk can people take steps to ensure that their family is protected if the relationship breaks down or there they are left bereaved.

What should cohabiting couples do?

Couples who live together (but are not married) should seriously consider entering into a Cohabitation Agreement. A Cohabitation Agreement records arrangements between people who have agreed to live together as a couple. It records each party’s rights and responsibilities in relation to the property where they live or intend to live, the financial arrangements between them and the arrangements to be made if they decide that they no longer wish to live together.

Couples should also ensure that their Wills are up to date and accurately record their wishes for what is to happen to their estate on death.

At Kitsons we have experienced Family and Private Client teams who are able to draw up Cohabitation Agreements and Wills.