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Readers' Questions - When someone dies...

Our resident Living Together expert answers readers' questions about living together issues when someone dies.

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Dear Mary,
My partner died suddenly in December, apparently leaving no will. I know I have few rights and that legally everything goes to his next-of-kin. Unfortunately, his next-of-kin is his elderly mother who is herself terminally ill and also partially sighted & partially hearing. I am concerned that his brothers are going to get her to sign her rights over to them to "save her the stress of dealing with it all".

I know that my partner intended the flat (owned in his sole name) & his possessions to pass to me - he told me so on several occasions and promised I would always have a roof over my head, but he had not put this in writing. He said he trusted his family and I should too. I have always got on well with his family - but I know how people can change when money is involved. I am not worried about any money he may have left, but I am very concerned that his brothers will want to just sell off the flat and his possessions - leaving me homeless and all his loved possessions disposed of unsympathetically.

Is there anything I can do to try & protect my home and his possessions?

I am self-employed and earning very little so, I would find it very difficult to re-house myself or get a mortgage of any sort. I am very anxious about my future and feel I am unable to grieve for my soul mate with all this hanging over me.

I am so sorry to hear of your loss. And that you have to deal with this problem on top of it. I can tell you that you can change where the money goes by negotiation and agreement. If all the beneficiaries are adults - which they are in your case - the law says that they can make an agreement with others which can effectively take the place of a will.

If you cannot make an agreement you may have the option of taking legal action. If you have lived with your partner for more than two years prior to his or her death, or if you were being wholly or partly looked after financially by him, you can make a claim against the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

You must make your claim within 6 months of the letters of administration (if he died in December this may not have been granted yet). See our guide to Wills and LivingTogether (490 KB) (particularly page 9) for more details and advice.
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Dear Mary,
My partner died two years ago, we have a 7 year old son. Our mortgage was paid off as we had life insurance on our joint home. I work part time and receive a dependant's pension from my partner's last employer as he had nominated me. I also receive an army pension for my son. As my partner had not divorced from his first wife she receives a widow's pension from the army. After paying bills etc my income is low and up to now I have relied on savings to live on, but they are now running out. Am I entitled to any widowed parents income from the government, or anything else? My partner and I had a blessing ceremony in the hospice where he died but I do not know if this means I am a civil partner or not?

"Civil Partnership" is basically marriage for same sex couples. So, no, you can't have been civil partners in the legal sense. And unfortunately Bereavement Allowance or Widowed Parent’s Allowance is only paid to married or civil partners. For more information please see our Benefits and living with your partner (0.9 MB).

Have you looked at whether you might be entitled to anything else? From what you say, you may well be entitled to tax credits. Follow the link on the right to the HM Revenue and Customs site - there is a really useful calculator that will work out if you qualify. It might also be worth a trip to your local advice agency - an adviser will be able to check if there is any other help you are entitled to.
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Dear Mary,
My fiancé died recently, five weeks before our intended marriage. He made no will and his daughter is the Administrator of his estate. Would I be able to make a claim on his estate through the Court?

I am so sorry to hear of your loss. You may not need to go to court, you can change where the money goes by negotiation and agreement. If all the beneficiaries are adults the law says that they can make an agreement with others which can effectively take the place of a will. If you are able to come to an agreement, this would definitely be the best option as it is less stressful than going to court and will not waste your partner's money on legal bills. More importantly, it does not risk damaging your relationship with your partner's daughter.

If you cannot make an agreement you may have the option of taking legal action. If you have lived with your partner for more than two years prior to his or her death, or if you were being wholly or partly looked after financially by him, you can make a claim against the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

You must make your claim within 6 months of the letters of administration. See page 9 of our guide to Wills and LivingTogether (490 KB) for more details and advice.
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Dear Mary,
My fiancé died without leaving a will. His estate is being handled by his daughter who has completely excluded me from anything to do with it. Do I have the right to see Letters of Administration? I don't know if it would be worth my while making a claim through the court as I don't know if there is anything to claim. There is no property involved.

Letters of administration or probate (and wills for that matter) are public documents, so can be seen by anyone. You don't have to ask his daughter to show it to you - you can see it at the probate registry. If the letters of administration haven't been granted yet you can put something in place called a standing search. This will mean that you are notified when they are granted. The value of the estate will be included on them. Follow the link to the courts service leaflet on the right for details of how to do it.
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Dear Mary
I lived with my partner as husband and wife for 24 years. My partner died on 28th December 2006. We bought a house, I paid the mortgage and the insurance. The land registry says the house reverts to me on his death, and if I had died it would have reverted to him. His son has now decided that the house should be part of my partner's estate. Can he contest what has been said by the solicitor and the land registry?

I am so sorry to hear of your recent loss, and the unfortunate situation your partner's son has put you in. No I don't think your partner's son can challenge your ownership, provided that you owned the home as joint tenants (which I think you must do, because of the advice you received from the land registry and solicitor). When you own a home as joint tenants you both own the entire home (as oppose to each owning half of it). Any action along the lines he suggests would take what is yours (all of the home) away from you.

If you had held the property as Tenants in Common you would only have owned half the home each, and your partner's share would have been part of his estate. I hope this puts your mind at rest. For more details read pages 10 and 11 of our housing guide (350 KB).
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Dear Mary,
I have been with my partner for 25 years and, sadly, she is terminally ill. We share our home and various bank accounts and savings etc. Our estate is approx. £620,000 and I would like to know the position re: Inheritance Tax. Our wills leave everything to the surviving partner, so what would be the Inheritance Tax position on her passing? Is it a case of £620,000 divided by 2 then minus £300,000 with the residue taxed at 40% or is it more draconian? Thanks.

I am very sorry to hear that your partner is ill. I know that Inheritance tax can seem like the last thing you should be worried about now, but it really is a good idea to think about it, and look at what you can do to minimise the problem. Unlike married couples or civil partners, cohabiting couples have to pay tax on anything that they inherit from each other if the total estate is over the threshold (£325,000 in April 2009-10, and £350,000 for 2010-2011).

It does work pretty much as you describe. Your partner's taxable estate is everything that is in only her name, and half of everything that is in your joint names (unless you own it in unequal shares). Anything that is in your name, even if you've always counted it as half hers, is not included.

Remember to check any occupational or personal pension scheme she has. If she has nominated you for any lump sum or dependents pension (and if they will pay to unmarried partner) these will not normally count as part of her estate. If she hasn't nominated you, it will count as her estate and might get swallowed up by the tax man.

If your partner's estate comes to over £300,000, which it sounds like it might, you do need to think about a little inheritance tax planning. Even if you are happy to pay the tax bill, it might be that your partner would prefer that her hard-earned money help you, a friend or relative, or a charity, rather than go to the tax man. Our
Inheritance Tax leaflet (333 KB)
will give you more information on how it works and your options for avoiding a bill, or you could get advice. Follow the links on the right to search for an adviser.
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Dear Mary,
My best friend's partner of 10 years has died this week. They have an 8 year old daughter together. He is an Italian catholic and his relatives will not allow her to bury him until the autopsy is done - and he is buried whole. This is going to take up to 2 months. Where does she stand on insisting the funeral takes place sooner because of his daughter? In fact, where does she stand making decisions about anything?

Unfortunately it is the administrator or executor of his will who has the right to organise his funeral and deal with all his affairs. If he left a will and named his partner as an executor, she does have a right to make these decisions. But if he made no will, the law dictates who should sort out his affairs. If he wasn't married, and has no children over the age of 18, this is his parents. I am sorry. Your friend should try talking to the family, as his long-term partner and the mother of his child maybe they will listen to her wishes.

For more information on wills, including what happens after somebody has died without a will, see our guide to Wills and LivingTogether (490 KB).

Unfortuantely, we can nolonger take answer questions to the problem page. Hopefully, you will find the answer to a similar question on these pages.

February 2010

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