According to the Office for National Statistics, there are currently 3.6 million cohabitants living together in the United Kingdom. However, despite this significant number, cohabitants often mistakenly believe that they have legal protection under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. This Act allows a cohabitant to seek maintenance from the estate of a deceased partner if the disposition of the estate fails to provide reasonable financial provision for their maintenance. To be eligible as an applicant, a cohabitant must meet the following essential criteria:
Living in the same household
Both parties must live in the same household. The relevant word here is ‘household’ not ‘house’. Parties will be in the same household if they are tied by their relationship which is usually, but not necessarily, demonstrated by living at the same address.
Living as if the claimant and the deceased were a married couple or civil partner
The claimant must live as if that person and the deceased were a married couple or civil partners. Beneficiaries often deny there is cohabitation asserting that the claimant was a lodger and there was no bed sharing or anything close to living as a married couple. The court recognises that human relationships are neither simple nor straightforward and uses the following four questions to consider this condition:
(a) have the parties set up a home together?
(b) is the relationship an emotional one of mutual lifetime commitment rather than simply one of convenience, friendship, companionship, or the living together of lovers?
(c) is the relationship one which has been presented to the outside world openly and unequivocally so that society considers it to be of permanent intent?
(d) do the parties have a common life together, both domestically relating to the household and externally relating to family and friends?
The length of the relationship often answers these questions and may sometimes be sufficiently long to satisfy a court on its own that the condition has been satisfied. It is worth noting that it is unnecessary to prove that the claimant and the deceased were in a sexual relationship as long as they were in a relationship of a couple cohabiting together. Even where a parties’ relationship is comparable to a marriage in the last stages of breakdown and living arrangements are already severed, a court may still hold that they live in the same household.
For the whole of the period of two years ending immediately before the date of death
The claimant and deceased must live in this way for the whole of the period of not less than two years immediately before the death of the deceased. The court takes a common-sense approach to this condition to allow for circumstances beyond the parties’ control which cause cohabitation to cease or be interrupted immediately before the death of the deceased. This may include, for example, a hospital admission followed by death in hospital or where a party is compelled to live apart due to work commitments. The court also allows for voluntary separation where there is evidence that although the parties may have been physically apart, the relationship was continuing, and the household was being maintained as a single unit for both the deceased and claimant.
If a claimant does not qualify as a cohabitant, they may qualify as a person who immediately before the death of the deceased was being maintained either wholly or partly by the deceased. To qualify the deceased must have made a substantial contribution in money or money’s worth toward the reasonable needs of that person other than a contribution made for full valuable consideration under a commercial arrangement. To determine this condition, the court looks at the basis on which the claimant was maintained as well as the length and extent of the maintenance. Commercial arrangements, such as payment for lodgings or caregiving, do not fall under this provision.
As cohabitation becomes more prevalent, understanding the nuances of the 1975 Act is crucial to understand who may bring a claim as a cohabitant.
The author, Alistair Rustemeyer, qualified as a solicitor in 1994 and an accredited mediator in 1999. Alistair is a member of the Association of Contentious Trust and Probate Specialists and is highly specialised and experienced in advising clients across a range of contested probate and Inheritance Act claims. For an initial free discussion please contact Alistair on email@example.com or call 01273 044516.