Reforms no substitute for will says legal expert

But she warns it could be years before the proposals outlined in a new consultation document become law.

Jane a specialist in tax and trust matters with Woodcocks says: The current law dates back to 1925 and doesnt really reflect the changes in society that have taken place since. Nowadays many couples live together but many dont realise that in the event of one of them dying the survivor has no automatic right to inherit any part of his or her partners estate.

We often hear the term Common Law wife or husband bandied about but in this context it is absolutely meaningless. It doesnt matter how long the couple live together or even if they have children together. Many couples are simply unaware that they have no or few rights on death unless they make a will. Its a real problem because about 1 in three people who die each year have not made a will.

The reforms should they become law could mean that couples who have a child together or who have lived as a couple for more than five years will have the same rights as a married couple. Also where a couple without children have lived together for between 2 and 5 years, on the first death the survivor could be set to inherit half their partners estate. Its a similar picture for married couples without a will too and the Law Commission report looks at ways of simplifying the system for them too.

Overall I would say that the reforms are sensible and welcome but there may be a question for some couples over how you go about proving you have been living together for the required time and I feel this may lead to fierce debate. There is also the argument that couples who live together and may not have gotten married for a reason, for example wanting to pass their wealth to their children from a previous marriage, may fall into the new provisions without realising it if they have not made a will.

You have to remember this process is still in the consultation stage and it could be a long time before it becomes law.

The simplest way to avoid the problem is to get a will so you can make it clear what happens to your estate in the event of your death.

Woodcocks is one of the oldest established family firms of solicitors in the country, with offices in Bury, Haslingden, Rawtenstall, Ramsbottom and Bacup.

For more information relating to tax or trust matters contact Jane Molyneaux or to make a Will contact Stephen Parr on 01706 213356.

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