A woman who lived with her partner for 18 years has won a legal battle after half the home she shared with him passed to his estranged wife after he died.
Joy Williams, 69, owned the house with Norman Martin but Mr Martin had never divorced his wife Maureen. Ms Williams and Mr Martin owned their three-bedroom home in Dorchester, now valued at around £320,000, as tenants in common. But this meant that Mr Martin’s half share of their home did not automatically pass to Ms Williams after Mr Martin’s death in 2012 aged 69.
Ms Williams brought an Inheritance Act claim for “reasonable financial provision” to be made for her out of Mr Martin’s estate. To succeed in her claim Ms Williams had to establish that for two years up to Mr Martin’s death she had lived in the same household as Mr Martin as his wife, or that immediately before his death she was being maintained “wholly or partly” by him.
The judge said the “fair and reasonable result” was that she should “retain an absolute interest” in the house she and Mr Martin had shared in a “loving and committed” relationship and that it was “quite plain” that Ms Williams and Mr Martin had in “all material respects” lived as husband and wife in a way “in which they expected to spend the rest of their lives.” Mrs Martin had tried to argue that she and her husband were not estranged, despite him having moved out of the matrimonial home in 1994 to live with Ms Williams and that she and her husband in substance remained in a committed relationship as husband and wife. Her argument was that her husband was in effect maintaining two separate households. Mrs Martin, 73, was ordered to pay £100,000 on account of Ms Williams’ total costs pending detailed assessment of costs by the court.
Ms Williams commented afterwards “All I wanted was for the court to recognise that I needed to have his share of the house that was our home to provide me with some security for my future and this judgment has done just that. What has been traumatic for me is that this level of serious relationship is not currently recognised by the law and I therefore had to bring this claim in court to achieve some security and obtain this result. I hope my situation raises awareness for others to consider their own financial position in relation to their partner and consider whether they need to take advice to protect each other in the future.”
The case shows that even when couples live together for a number of years there is no automatic right to inherit your partner’s estate when they die. If you live with someone it is vital that you both have wills that reflect your wishes and that you ensure that you always keep your will up to date when your circumstances change.
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