Unmarried partners rights after death

It is never easy to think about the worst happening but getting your affairs in order will help prevent further distress for your family and ensure your wishes are met.

Couples who live together do not have the same legal rights as married couples or civil partners and is it important to understand, and deal with, the differences as they could impact on: 

Our lawyers

We have extensive experience in advising on a wide range of issues that arise for unmarried or cohabiting couples especially those that are complex, tricky, or novel. We are well known for providing advice that is accessible, understandable and, most importantly, relevant.  

Cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type in the UK. As a result, we act for increasingly diverse clients including:  

  • Blended families  
  • Same-sex families
  • Young couples 
  • Parents and grandparents providing financial support to their children and grandchildren 
  • Couples who are in business together 
  • Professional and family trustees 

What do you need to know

Couples assume that after spending their  lifetime together, they will be treated as “next of kin” if their partner becomes ill or dies. Unfortunately, this is not the case and that assumption can have devastating consequences. For example, it could mean a hospital not being able to liaise with you in a medical emergency, it could mean not being involved in making long-term care plans for your partner and it could even mean not being able to make funeral arrangements.  

To avoid the stress and upset of finding yourself in this situation, there are some simple steps unmarried couples can take to make sure that others are clear about what their wishes are.  

Lasting power of attorney

A lasting power of attorney gives your chosen attorney legal access to, and authority over, your finances and personal care decisions for yourself in case you become unable to make these decisions for yourself. This could happen through illness or because of an accident. 

Cohabitation agreement

Cohabitation agreements set out how assets are owned and what happens on a separation. However, they can be much broader than this and include everything from who keeps the dog to who is nominated for death in service benefits through to who pays the bills. 


Declaration of trust

This is a legal agreement setting out whether a property is owned by one or both of you and, if it is in owned in joint names, in what proportions you own the property. It can be made when you and your partner buy a new property or it can be used to protect a property one of you has brought into the relationship by setting out that the other does not gain any interest in the property (or if they do, what that interest looks like). Declarations of trust are also used where family members provide money towards a deposit or improvements as they help protect the financial contribution made for example by setting out that it is to be paid back when the property is sold.  


A will sets out what happens to your money, property, and possessions after your death. A will is important for couples who live together because the law treats cohabiting couples very differently from married couples. Dying without a will means the intestacy rules will decide who gets your assets and that will not include a cohabiting partner, however long you have lived together.  


Frequently Asked Questions

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