If a cohabiting couple do not make wills and one passes away, the survivor has no statutory right to inherit under the intestacy rules. However, a surviving cohabitee may use the courts to claim for financial provision where they have cohabited for two years, or where they were a dependent immediately before the deceased’s death.
In Thompson v Ragget the claimant claimed reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 out of the estate of her late partner, who had left her nothing. HHJ Jarman QC considered it would be reasonable to provide the couple’s home, which had been bought in 2016 for the couple to live in. In deciding whether the cottage should be transferred outright or a life interest granted the Judge emphasised that the statutory power is to provide maintenance, not to confer capital.
HHJ Jarman QC noted, however that all cases are dependant on their facts taking into account all factors. In this case because of the 42 year period of cohabitation it was reasonable to convey the cottage (in which the defendants had no interest) to the claimant whilst noting: ‘such an approach is likely to facilitate all concerned moving on from this litigation’, and to do so would allow the claimant to ‘take decisions relating to her home, such as making structural alterations or raising money without the need to seek permission’.
This case gives some assurance to cohabitees that the courts will decide each case on its facts, and the award of a capital sum rather than a life interest is still possible where appropriate. Key points that influenced the judgment in this case included the length of cohabitation, the claimant’s financial dependency on the deceased, and the fact that conveying the property to the claimant outright would do away with the need for her to ask permission to make renovations or to raise capital.