When is a Cohabitee not a Cohabitee…?

A recent case has highlighted the trauma and expense that will disputes can cause for cohabitees.

Harjinder Kaur met Harcharan Singh Dhaliwal (known as Harry) in May 2005,  a few months after his wife of 25 years had committed suicide.  Harry had been charged with her manslaughter by allegedly triggering the suicide.  He was acquitted in March 2006, by which time he had been engaged to Harjinder for 9 months.

They kept their relationship secret from Harry’s two sons Sandeep and Amitoz for as long as possible as they (correctly) believed that the sons would not approve of the relationship.

The couple often spent the night together at Harjinder’s flat and worked together full time, 7 days a week. In July 2007 they moved in together permanently, having previously had short periods of living together in a number of properties. Harry died on 7th June 2009.

Harjinder brought a claim for a share of Harry’s estate. The dispute between her and Harry’s two sons was in relation to how long the couple had lived together before his death.

The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 provides that a co-habitee can make a claim against the estate of their deceased partner, provided that they have lived together for a period of two years immediately before the deceased’s death.

Following a hearing at the high court on 1st and 2nd April 2014 the judge found that Harjinder was able to bring a claim under the Inheritance Act despite having lived with Harry for only 1 year and 49 weeks (3 weeks short of the strict 2 year requirement).  An earlier 3 month period of cohabitation, it was argued, should be counted towards the 2 year total.  The judge decided that there had been a “settled relationship … evidenced not simply by their living under the same roof”.  The test to be applied was “whether their relationship had irretrievably broken down or rather was merely suspended”.

With more than two million unmarried couples living together it is likely in the future that there will be more and more inheritance disputes involving unmarried couples. Often, family life can be a complicated affair with many couples having had previous partners or spouses and children from those relationships.   Unfortunately after a death it is often the case that old resentments between siblings and/or step parents can surface which makes this kind of litigation very emotional (and expensive).

Partner Sarah Young comments:

“If you live with someone for more than 2 years then your partner will be entitled to make a claim against your estate if you do not make “reasonable” financial provision for them.  It’s especially important that you are aware that if you own a property and your partner moves in and starts paying towards the mortgage on a regular basis, or for building work, they may acquire an interest in the property.”

She warns, “Most people don’t want to make a will or see a solicitor; they just hope that everything will be alright…but failing to plan can be a disastrous legacy for your loved ones.”

Sarah Young is a Partner with Ridley and Hall solicitors in Huddersfield and specialises in will disputes. Sarah has a record of bringing the most complex cases to a successful conclusion.

For further information please contact Sarah Young of Ridley and Hall, Queens House, 35 Market Street, Huddersfield HD1 2HL on 01484 538838 or mobile 07860 165850.