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What are my property rights as a spouse or cohabitee in the event of death or separation?

Regrettably, it is often the case that individuals only come to consider what rights they have in relation to their home once their spouse/partner has passed away or their relationship has come to an end.

It is quite common to discover that the respective partners did not own the home jointly or if they did, it was held in a way that means the property does not pass to the surviving partner outright.

It is possible for an individual to demonstrate that whilst the property was not owned jointly, it was intended to provide a ‘family home’ and that the non-owner relied upon that intention to their detriment. The usual way of establishing this is to show that the non owner made a financial contribution to the home. This could include contributing to the deposit monies when the home was purchased, helping to pay the mortgage or funding renovation/improvement works. In exceptional cases, an interest can be established on the basis of the parties conduct, even where no financial contribution can be demonstrated.

As a result, the non owner may be able to establish an entitlement to a share of the property, and/or the right to continue to live in the home. The rights of any minor children of the relationship would also have to be considered.


Mr & Mrs X were married and lived in their family home for 25 years. They both have children from previous marriages and both worked throughout their lives. On the death of Mr X, Mrs X discovers that:-

a)      Their home is owned in Mr X’s sole name (he took care of all paperwork);

b)      Mr X’s Will gives Mrs X the right to live in the home for her lifetime, but then on her death, it passes to Mr X’s children only.

Mrs X wishes to sell the home, in order to move into a smaller, more suitable property nearer to her children and believes that ultimately, her children should also inherit a share of the property.

A claim could be brought to try to achieve this for her, even though on the face of the property title and Will, she is not entitled to anything, other than the right to reside in that property.

Anyone in a similar situation should seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity to ensure that their interests are protected.

Napthen Solicitors Employee Nicola Turner