Thinking of living with your partner?
With more couples choosing not to marry, it's vital that couples about to start living together are aware of their legal rights and responsibilities. Contrary to public opinion there is no such thing as a “common-law spouse”. Different law applies for those who live together than for those who marry. Often one party is bringing significantly more wealth into the relationship than the other and there are three vital steps that can be taken to protect the wealthier party. 1) Hold any property you will purchase as your home or as investments together in a way which accurately reflects your respective financial contributions: a. If both of you will make contributions to the purchase price (whether by way of a deposit, mortgage repayments or lump sums off the mortgage) the property should be held in joint names as “beneficial tenants in common”. This should be supported by a “declaration of trust” setting out your respective interests in the property. Provided you both seek independent legal advice before entering into the declaration of trust this will be binding. Without a declaration of trust there is the assumption that the property is owned 50:50, thus the importance of having a declaration of trust when the parties are making unequal financial contributions. b. If it is only you providing funds to purchase the property, ensure the property is in your sole name. Be aware, however, that a non-owning partner can earn an interest in the property by paying outgoings such as utilities, council tax etc. To ensure further protection, invite your partner to enter into a “contractual licence”, giving you the right to terminate their right to occupy the property upon various trigger events. 2) Enter into a “cohabitation agreement”, regulating your shared financial affairs such as what contributions you will each make to the outgoings on the property, who will pay for the contents of the home, what bank accounts and credit cards you will have together, etc. Provided the cohabitation agreement is clear & unambiguous, and entered into after the necessary independent legal advice, then it is a very clear indication of your intentions when setting up home together. 3) Make a Will, ensuring that your cohabitee is adequately provided for upon your death. If you die without a Will your cohabitee does not inherit under the intestacy rules. However, if you do not make sufficient provision for your partner in your Will, he or she can present a claim against the estate if the cohabitation has endured for at least 2 years before death, or if the deceased has maintained them. It is a wise investment to seek advice before beginning any cohabitation to ensure your best interests are protected from the very start. Deborah Jeff, Partner. Head of Family law
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