The Cohabitation Rights Bill – Sweeping Changes to Inheritance Law
The Cohabitation Rights Bill had its first reading in the Lords on 4 June 2015. If passed in its current form, the Bill would extend to cohabitants a number of rights currently reserved to spouses and civil partners, including:
- Inheritance on the other cohabitant’s intestacy and rights in the deceased’s home; and
- Rights to bring applications under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
- The right to claim under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976.
To be ‘cohabitants’, both partners (of either sex) must satisfy three conditions:
a. They must “live together as a couple”
b. They both satisfy one of the following:
i. They are both parents of the same minor child;
ii. There is a joint residence order in favour of both in respect of a child;
iii. They are the natural parents of a child en ventre sa mere;
iv. They have cohabited for three years or more.
c. They are not married, civil partners, or closely related (the Bill sets out degrees of prohibited relationship).
The changes proposed by the act would grant a surviving cohabitant the same rights as a surviving spouse under s.46 Administration of Estates Act 1925. So if the deceased left no issue, the surviving cohabitant would receive the estate absolutely. The Bill precludes any claim by a cohabitant where the deceased was still married at the time of death.
These rights also extend to the deceased’s home, as provided for in the Intestates’ Estates Act 1952.
Reasonable Provision Claims
The existing provisions for persons living ‘as the husband or wife/civil partner’ of the deceased are replaced by provision for ‘qualifying cohabitants’ as defined in the Bill. Such cohabitants are entitled to the same levels of provision as spouses – i.e. not merely such provision as is required for their maintenance.
Even if cohabitants cease to live together as a couple, they may qualify as ‘former cohabitants’ if they continue to live in the same accommodation for financial reasons. Such a ‘former cohabitant’ may apply for reasonable financial provision if the other cohabitant dies within twenty-four months, but is only entitled to provision sufficient for their maintenance.
This Bill significantly widens the scope for claims to the estates of intestates or under the 1975 Act. One can well foresee the disputes that are likely to arise as to whether the deceased and the applicant were living ‘as a couple’ for the relevant period, particularly where the applicant may stand to receive the whole estate and/or an interest in the deceased’s home.
There is no express provision in the Bill that a person can only cohabit with one other person at a time. One envisages with some trepidation the scenario of three cohabitants, two of whom can satisfy the criteria of being a cohabitant with the deceased (because they have borne his child, for example) – it is not at all clear how this scenario plays out in a claim on intestacy.
The Bill will reach its next reading in the next parliamentary term.