No ring? No inheritance rights
More and more frequently our personal law team is contacted by an unmarried individual whose partner has died asking if they are entitled to any of their estate. The short answer is no.
Jersey law dictates that if a person dies intestate (meaning without a will), then their only heirs would be blood relatives or (if they had one) a married spouse/civil partner. A non-married partner is not entitled to any of the estate, no matter how many years they had been together. Although we can sympathise with people in this situation and agree that the Jersey inheritance law may seem out dated in our modern world, there is unfortunately very little that can be done.
What can you do about it?
Jointly owned assets are one of the very few areas a partner may be able to get some benefit from, as these would usually pass directly to the other party on survivorship. Therefore if a partner can prove that assets such as house contents were considered to be jointly owned then they would be entitled to them. The same would apply to a house that was owned jointly for the survivor.
Make a will
The best and safest way to ensure your estate is distributed in accordance with your wishes is to make a will. The time and costs involved are not as onerous as you may think, but they are far outweighed by the peace of mind if gives you and your loved ones that your wishes will be followed after you die. You can then ensure that your partner is cared for and also list any assets which are jointly owned. Your lawyer will advise you of any other issues you need to be aware of.
Even if you have a will…
There are forced heirship rights in Jersey called légitime. This means that a certain amount of your estate must be distributed to your spouse/civil partner and children. If it is not, they can claim it through the court. This only applies to movable estate and means that even if you leave your whole estate to your partner, your children could still claim two thirds of it. If you were married this would only be one third.
Another area worth considering is stamp duty on any immovable property (for example a house or flying freehold flat) passing by will. If a person inherits immovable property they must pay stamp duty to the court based on the value of the property in order to register the will. There are concessions available where the stamp duty can be reduced if those inheriting are the heirs at law (meaning those who would have inherited under intestacy) or if the property is the matrimonial home. As an unmarried partner is not due any share of the immovable estate under intestacy, then they would likely have to pay full stamp duty on anything they inherit from their partner. This could be several thousand pounds depending on the value of the property.
It is therefore important to make sure your wishes are recorded and that you plan your estate wisely with the right advice.
Unfortunately, a tragedy can befall any of us at any time in our lives and it is a comfort to know that those we love will be taken care of. If you want advice on how to make your will, please contact our personal law team on: +44 (0) 1534 632263.