Theresa May has announced that all couples in England and Wales will be able to choose to enter into a civil partnership, instead of getting married. Currently, the law allows same-sex couples to either marry or enter into a civil partnership but mixed-sex couples can only choose to marry. Theresa May is planning to change this by taking a Bill through Parliament, in order to give everyone the same life choices.
The Civil Partnership Act, which came into force in 2005, allowed same-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships and then in March 2014, it became legal for same-sex couples to marry. On the other hand, mixed-sex couples have only been able to marry up until now. The proposed change in law is a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
This blog post explores how changing the law will give everyone the same opportunities when it comes to legally recognising their relationship, the differences between civil partnerships and marriages and the impact your relationship status has on your estate if you were to die.
What are the differences between a civil partnership and a marriage?
Civil partners benefit from a legally recognised relationship which includes many of the same rights as married couples with regards to inheritance, tax benefits and social security. However, they avoid the religious connotations of marriage and could be a popular option for those who believe that marriage is an age-old institution.
The process of getting married varies from that of forming a civil partnership. Firstly, no ceremony is required like in a traditional marriage but both parties must sign a civil partnership document in front of a registrar and two witnesses. Secondly, vows do not need to be exchanged and the father is not required to ‘give away’ his daughter.
In addition, marriage certificates only include the fathers’ names of the parties getting married but on a civil partnership certificate, both parents of the couple are named. Civil partners are also not allowed to refer to themselves as ‘husband’, ‘wife’ or ‘married’ but would instead call themselves ‘civil partners’.
How does your relationship status impact the distribution of your estate in the event of death?
If you do not have a valid Will, it would mean that your estate would be deemed intestate and your assets would be distributed following the rules of intestacy. In England and Wales, that would mean that your husband, wife or civil partner would keep all of your assets (including any property) up to the value of £250,000. In addition, they would be entitled to all of your personal possessions, no matter what their value. If the estate is worth more than £250,000, anything above this amount would be divided in half between the spouse or civil partner and the deceased’s surviving children. If their child had predeceased, their children would inherit in their place.
If you do have a valid Will, your estate will be administered in line with the wishes you’ve left in your Will and the Executor you’ve appointed is legally and financially responsible for the correct distribution of your estate.
However, what some people are unaware of is that cohabiting couples are treated as single individuals in the event of death. If you were one half of a cohabiting couple and you were to die without a Will, your partner would not receive any of your assets. Instead, your estate would be distributed as per the rules of intestacy. If the deceased had children the estate would be shared equally between the children or their descendants. If they didn’t have children and their parents were still alive, the estate would be shared equally between the parents. If there were no living parents, the estate would pass to siblings, followed by half-brothers/sisters, living grandparents, aunts/uncles or their children, and half-aunts/half-uncles or their children. If the deceased had none of these relatives, the whole estate goes to the Crown. These intestacy rules apply to England and Wales and differ from those in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Will more cohabiting couples be inclined to enter into a civil partnership?
According to the Office for National Statistics, there are 3.3 million cohabiting couple families in the UK and this is the fastest growing family type. In today’s modern age, it appears that more couples are deciding to cohabit and perhaps objection to marriage could be a contributing factor for this rise. The introduction of civil partnerships for mixed-sex couples could be the answer for those who want the legal and financial security of marriage but do not actually want to get married.
Kings Court Trust are experts in estate administration – the process of dealing with a person’s legal and tax affairs when they die. If you have any questions about estate administration or what to do when someone dies, our Client Services Team are on hand to answer your questions. Call 0300 303 9000 or email ClientServicesTeam@kctrust.co.uk.