Many people today are under the illusion that cohabitation with a partner creates some kind of legal protection. However, the reality is that the only way to ensure your family and your interests are protected in any eventuality is to put certain legal documents in place. According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of cohabiting couple families grew by 29.7% between 2004 and 2014. For anyone who falls within this definition there are a number of ways we can help you.
A cohabitation agreement
A cohabitation agreement sets out what happens if the relationship comes to an end. It can clarify a number of factors including:
Who currently owns what in terms of assets and property
What will happen to shared financial responsibilities if the relationship breaks down
How the family property will be dealt with
Arrangements for children, including surnames and financial support payments
There are some key features a cohabitation agreement must have – for example, it must be clear and not overly favourable to one person – otherwise the contents are largely up to a cohabiting couple to decide.
There are two important considerations here:
How is the property held? If as ‘Joint Tenants’ then if one person dies the other will inherit even if there is no Will. If as ‘Tenants in Common,’ where there is no Will, the property share can pass to an individual’s descendants and not to their partner.
Have property contributions been equal? There is a presumption that a property is owned in equal shares so if one person has contributed more than the other a Declaration of Trust will be necessary to clarify this.
Other than jointly owned property, cohabitees will have no claim on anything that makes up a partner’s estate on death where there is no Will, no matter how long the couple have been cohabiting for. Therefore a Will is essential for both partners to ensure assets are passed on as intended. A Will should provide for the partner left behind and may need to include a Guardianship Clause if there are children involved.
Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPA)
Many people don’t consider an LPA essential until they are older but the reality is that they can be useful at any time. Illness, injury or accident can affect any of us at any stage in life and if there is an LPA in place then the situation is much easier to manage. There are two types of LPAs – Property and Finance LPAs and health and welfare LPAs. If these are already in place then there is the reassurance of knowing that, should anything happen to either partner, their wishes, in terms of how financial decisions are made and how care is handled will be fulfilled.
Together, these essentials make up a package of legal documents that are crucial for unmarried couples to invest in to ensure future protection.