Those who doubt the legal advantages of getting married should take note of a case in which an elderly man was left facing homelessness after his partner’s unexpected death and had to go to court to seek reasonable provision from her estate.
The unmarried couple were of similar age and the man expected that, in the natural course of things, he would probably die first. They lived in a house that was in her sole name and, after she died suddenly, her son – to whom she had left almost all her estate – took steps to make him leave the property.
After he took legal advice, proceedings on his behalf were launched under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. The claim was hotly resisted by the son, who argued that the relationship between his mother and the man had become more akin to that of a landlady and a lodger by the time she died.
In upholding the man’s claim, however, a judge noted that the circumstances of the case provided an example of the vulnerable position in which cohabitants can find themselves if they unexpectedly survive their partner. The couple’s relationship had endured for about 20 years and they had lived openly as husband and wife for more than a decade.
The judge noted that the woman died on board an aircraft as the couple were going on holiday together. She had complained to friends about his lifestyle and that she had to do everything for him, but it was unfair to characterise him as a mere lodger. She had made it clear that she had no wish to live alone and the relationship contained an element of mutual support. Although they had not married, their commitment to each other was equivalent to engagement. Believing that he would be the first to die, the man had made a will leaving her half of his estate.
He had, in the circumstances, established that he was dependent on the woman for accommodation and was entitled to reasonable provision from her estate. The judge ordered a sale of the home that they once shared and that half the proceeds should be invested in purchasing a new home for the man. That sum would revert to the woman’s estate on his death.