Marriage and Civil partnership VS Co-habitation and Common law

Final duties break down the legal differences between Marriage, Civil partnerships, Co-habitation and Common law

Marriage and Civil partnership VS Co-habitation and Common law how does this effect the legal process of inheritance and estate administration?


The Oxford English dictionary defines marriage as “The legally or formally recognized union of two people as partners in a personal relationship” In the UK marriage can be between two people of an opposite gender or two people of the same gender.

Proof of a marriage can be:-

• a certified copy of an entry in a UK register of marriages; or
• a marriage certificate issued in the country where the marriage took place.

There are benefits to being married when it comes to inheritance and estate administration.

• You will inherit if your spouse leaves provision for you in the will
• You will not have to pay inheritance on assets passed between spouses
• Your spouse can use your nil rate band against their estate upon their death
• If one of you passes away “intestate”, without leaving a will, under the British rules of intestacy you are still entitled to inherit.

Civil Partnerships

“A civil partnership is a legal relationship which can be registered by two people of the same sex who aren’t related to each other. If you are in a same-sex relationship, registering a civil partnership will give your relationship legal recognition. This will give you added legal rights, as well as responsibilities.”

The government website provides a comparison of civil partnership and marriage for same sex couples which you can read here.

When it comes to Inheritance tax and Estate administration civil partners are entitled to the same property rights, inheritance tax exemptions, social security and pension benefits as married couples.

Common-law spouses

Common-law husbands or wives are not legally recognised under British Inheritance laws, and therefore no provision is made for them under the Rules of Intestacy. This means that they will not be entitled to inherit upon the others death.

To ensure that your partner will be provided for after your death you must write a valid will naming them as a beneficiary of your estate. If you do write a will leaving your estate to your partner they will still not receive the same tax exemptions that a spouse would.

Living together/ Cohabiting

Although there is no legal definition of living together, it generally means to live together as a couple without being married.
In some areas of law you may not have the same rights as you would if you registered your civil partnership, but when it comes to inheritance you do not.

It is important to write a will in order for your assets to be distributed according to your wishes and ensure your partner inherits. As an unmarried couple you will not receive the inheritance tax exemptions as a couple who are married or in a civil partnership.

When one partner dies without leaving a valid will, Living together or cohabiting does not give you the same legal entitlement to inherit as a spouse/civil partner or family member. When there is no valid will their estate would be subject to the rules of intestacy, these rules prioritises spouses /civil partners and family members.

Your partner will not receive from your estate unless there are assets owned in joint names, for example if you owned a property together as joint tenants the property will pass to the surviving owner. However if the property is owned as tenants in common and the deceased left no will, the deceased’s share of the property will be distributed to their beneficiaries which are decided by the rules of intestacy. In some cases this can lead to the surviving partner having to sell the property for the deceased’s beneficiaries to receive their share.

Under certain circumstances you can apply to the court to receive from the estate or more of the estate if your partner dies without leaving enough or no provision for you and you were financially reliant on them.


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