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Inheritance worries needn’t prevent marriage

A recent poll has shown that the number of unmarried over 65s living together has risen by more than 40% – from 177,000 to 250,000 – in eight years. This is one of the biggest increases in any age group, according to the Office for National Statistics and includes 16,000 over 85s who opted not to marry.

Experts suggest that the sharp increase in older couples choosing to live together without marrying is a consequence of a number of changing social mores including in particular, the desire to protect the inheritance of children of an earlier marriage or relationship. Whilst this issue is an understandable concern, it is in fact an obstacle which is easily overcome.

A marriage does revoke any Will which either of the marrying couple might have made previously and the rules of intestacy would apply when the first of them dies, meaning that the survivor of them would have first call on the estate. However, there is no reason why a couple choosing to remarry cannot make new Wills, either after marriage or expressed as being in anticipation of it, which means that they would not be revoked by the marriage taking place.

Whilst the couple would need and no doubt wish, to ensure that on the death of the first of them, the survivor is not left in financial difficulties, this can be addressed by incorporating trusts into the Wills. For example, when the couple chose to move in together, one of them may well have sold their own home. The Will of the individual who owns the house in which they now live could provide that the survivor of them would have the right to continue to live there for the rest of their life, with the property passing on to the children of the spouse who owned the property, after the survivor has died. This would avoid the property having to be sold if the survivor ever required long term care for which they were self funding. There is no need for the surviving spouse to be tied to continuing to live in the same property – provision can be made in the Will for that property to be sold and a suitable replacement purchased. So the survivor will always continue to be appropriately accommodated – but the children’s inheritance will remain secure.

Similar arrangements can be made in providing an income for a surviving spouse, either from assets held by the deceased in their sole name, or indeed, their pension fund.

A further concern may be about being required to hand assets over if the marriage were to fail and end in divorce. This can be addressed by the parties entering into a properly drafted prenuptial agreement, the terms of which, unless the parties’ circumstances have changed significantly since entering into, will now be held up in Court in the event of divorce.

Whilst a couple may have personal reasons for choosing to cohabit rather than marry, providing a couple take proper legal advice, including making appropriate Wills and possibly entering into a prenuptial agreement, there is absolutely no reason why they need let concerns over their children’s inheritance get in the way of them celebrating their relationship in marriage.