The Taylor&Emmet Blog

Ask Ross: My common law wife will inherit my half, right?

ASK ROSS: To mark last weeks Cohabitation Awareness Week, Ross explains how to ensure you don’t lose your partner and your home should the worst happen…

My common law wife will inherit my half, right?My girlfriend and I have recently bought a house together. Do I need to make a will or is she entitled to inherit my half as my common law wife?

It is a widespread assumption that wills are only for those with complex affairs or great wealth and this is simply not the case. They are the only way to ensure your property and savings go to those you wish to benefit.

In law, there is no such thing as a common law wife or husband and cohabiting couples are not recognised, no matter how long you have lived together.

Making a will allows you to state to whom you wish your possessions to pass and at what age children are to inherit. If they are very young, you can also nominate guardians to care for them and administer your estate on their behalf, up to an age of your choosing. If you have significant assets then making a will can also maximise your tax benefits.

If you die intestate i.e. without a valid will, the state will make the decisions on your behalf. Your property and savings will pass to your next of kin, who will be determined by the law. Currently, this will not include your girlfriend. If do not enter into a marriage or civil partnership, the relationship will not be recognised during your lifetime or after your death.

Your assets will, therefore, pass to a spouse if there is one, regardless of whether you are separated. If there is no spouse, your estate will pass to any children and if they are under the age of 18, their shares will be tied up until they are adults. If you have no children, then parents benefit and so on. It is possible for your partner to make a claim on the estate, but this is a lengthy and costly process that can be avoided by making a will.

If the home you both live in is in joint names, it will pass automatically to the survivor, provided you are ‘joint tenants’. This is the usual way couples buy a house together.

It is, however, possible to purchase a property as ‘tenants in common’. This means you each have an individual share, but it does not have to be equal and upon your death, your proportion will pass through your estate, not to your partner. If you are uncertain on this issue, I would suggest contacting a solicitor.

Ross Ward


You have no excuse. Making a will could not be easier and you will be surprised at the reasonable cost. Contact our probate experts on (0114) 218 4000 or email to find out more.




Taylor&Emmet LLP is one of the leading and most successful law firms in the South Yorkshire region, a position it has held for nearly 150 years. This success has been achieved by delivering the highest quality legal advice to business and private clients, many of whom have remained with the firm for generations.

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