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New court ruling hits hopes of cohabiting couples

A recent court decision about inheritance could mean further financial problems for cohabiting couples, a lawyer has warned.

In the case of Wright v Gater, the cohabiting partner of a deceased man was bypassed for inheritance of an estate worth potentially £750,000 in favour of their three-year-old son.

"It highlights the need for reform of this area of law," said solicitor Oliver Embley of Wedlake Bell. "Current intestacy rules do not take into account changing family structures."

With more couples than ever choosing to live together and have children without marrying, it means that if one partner dies, the other may not inherit anything if there is no will in place, unless property is jointly owned.

"This can lead to significant hardship when longstanding cohabitants are bereaved," warned Mr Embley. "Many cohabitants do not realise that, if one of them dies without leaving a will, the other may not automatically inherit anything under the rules."

The Law Commission is due to publish a full review into intestacy laws in the coming months. But Mr Embley pointed out that that potential intestacy problems can be avoided if couples prepare a will. "It allows you to dictate the terms of the estate," he said.