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Court victory shows law on co-habiting needs overhaul

Court news.
Court news.

As most of us are aware, the family set-up is somewhat different here in the 21st century than it was a generation ago – but sadly, sometimes, the law does not keep up with changing times.

The recent case of a woman who had lived with her partner for 18 years, but was left nothing from his estate after he died, has highlighted the flaws.

We at Bowsers have often warned co-habiting couples about holes in the law and how they need legal protection and we hope the tale of this lady, Joy Williams, highlights this.

She won her case and can now make a claim against the estate of her former partner, but it has taken four years of utter turmoil, which would have been avoided if her and her ex, Norman Martin, who died in 2012, had just seen a good local solicitor many years ago.

The couple had spent 18 years living together unmarried, but Mr Martin remained married to his wife Maureen Martin.

The co-habiting couple lived together in a property in Dorset, but as tenants-in-common it meant that when he died the property did not automatically pass to Joy Williams.

If they had owned the property as joint tenants it would have passed automatically to the survivor.

However, the judge last month (February) ruled Joy Williams was entitled to make a claim against the estate of Martin saying it was a “fair and reasonable result,” and she should now inherit half the value of the property.

The judge had said she should “retain an absolute interest” in the home where she and her partner had lived in what the law saw as a committed relationship.

Sadly though, Maureen Martin, 73, who separated from her husband back in 1994, has been ordered to pay £100,000 pending a detailed assessment – a disaster for his widow.

Simply put, couples who live together have to see a solicitor to ensure they have a co-habitation agreement in place and make up-to-date wills.

For us at Bowsers, this tale does not surprise us as many couples believe someone has legal protection when their partner leaves or passes away, but this is not the case.

The words of Joy Williams following her victory says all we need to know in so many ways: “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 future,” she said.

We hope those in the Fenlands living in similar circumstances take note and, more importantly, take action.

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