Cohabitee entitled to share in partner’s £1.5 million estate

The High Court has ruled that 79 year old Joan Thompson is entitled to a share in her partner’s £1.5 million estate.


Despite Wynford Hodge and Joan Thompson having lived together as a couple for 42 years, Mr Hodge left his entire estate worth just over £1.5 million to friends and tenants.


Ms Thompson brought a claim against Mr Hodge’s estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.  His Honour Judge Jarman QC ruled that Ms Thompson should be entitled to reasonable provision for maintenance and granted her a property worth £225,000, £160,000 for future maintenance and care and £28,845 to renovate the property.


Does this change the law?


Although this will be considered by many as a win for cohabiting couples, the judgment does not really change the law relating to the entitlement of cohabiting couples. 


Mrs Thompson was successful in her claim because she was a dependant of Mr Hodge.  It was not disputed that Ms Thompson was financially dependent on Mr Thompson during the 42 years that that they had lived together as man and wife and at the time of his death and this meant that she was entitled to claim as a cohabitee under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.  If she had not been a cohabitee, she would still have been entitled to claim as a dependent.  


The case does, however, re-emphasise that the it is possible to make an outright transfer of a property and not just a right to live in the property for the remainder of the cohabitee’s life.


Rights for Cohabitees


Cohabiting couples do not enjoy the same rights as couples who are married or civil partners.  For example, they will not enjoy the same rights to distribution/redistribution of finances as married couples/civil partners.  They will also not be able to inherit in the case of intestacy (where one dies without having made a will) and transfer of property from to the other on death will not be exempt from inheritance tax.

In the event of a dispute between cohabitees, it will be necessary to rely on the following:

  • The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 where one cohabitee dies without making, or not making adequate provision, for the other cohabitee.
  • The Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 where the property is in the name of one of the cohabitees but the other person has made a contribution towards it.
  • Promissory Estoppel where a cohabitee has been promised a reward (usually inheritance or a share) and acts to their detriment (e.g. looking after the cohabitee / giving up their own property etc)

To find out more about bringing a claim against a cohabitee / the estate of a cohabitee or defending a claim, contact us.


Article by Chetan M.L. Shah

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