A cohabitee has this week won a lengthy legal battle to keep the house she shared with her deceased partner
Norman Martin and Joy Williams had been partners for over 18 years, sharing a home for the majority of that time. Mr Martin was married prior to his relationship however never completed divorce proceeding leaving him with an estranged wife. Mr Martin did not die intestate however he had failed to update his Will to reflect the significant change in his personal circumstances.
The property, now worth £320,000, was held by Mr Martin and Ms Williams as tenants-in-common, meaning that their respective shares in the property would pass under the terms of their Wills rather than being automatically inherited by the survivor.
In a terribly unfortunate situation, Ms Williams found herself with no legal right to Mr Martin’s estate upon his passing. The family home that they shared for so many years was bequeathed to his estranged wife under the terms of his long out-dated Will. Ms Williams was forced to bring a claim of dependency against Mr Martin’s estate to establish a right to the property which they bought together.
After a lengthy legal battle the judge hearing the case held in favour of Ms Williams and awarded her Mr Martin’s half share in the property due to their ‘loving and committed’ relationship, despite the terms of Mr Martin’s Will. Mr Martin’s estranged wife was ordered to pay ‘eye-watering’ legal costs for losing her defence.
This case is a timely reminder to all unmarried couples to ensure that they have adequate legal protection in place, particularly if a property has been purchased, when planning for the future. There is no such thing as a ‘common law partner’. Living with someone, no matter how long the relationship does not automatically give legal rights to the other upon death.
Equally, a Will is no good and can in fact be detrimental if it is not the first thing to be updated when our personal circumstances change.