Unmarried? Make a will...

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QHaving just bought our first home together our solicitor is keen for us to make wills. Is this really necessary? We are unmarried with no children.

A There is no legal requirement for you to make wills, just because you have bought a home together. However, since you are neither married nor, I assume, in a civil partnership, (whereby, in both cases, your rights of inheritance would be automatically guaranteed), I would strongly advise you to do so.

Ultimately, everything hinges on the basis on which you actually bought your home. For example, many people talk about ‘buying a home together,’ when in fact only one of their names is on the deeds – so from a legal standpoint they are simply co-habiting.

On the other hand, while you may indeed have bought your home in both names, there are actually two different ways in which property can be jointly owned, with significant legal differences between them. So, if you own the property as ‘Joint Tenants,’ then basically you are both equal legal owners, with each of you automatically becoming the sole owner in the event of the other’s death – will or no will. However, if you own the property as ‘Tenants in Common,’ then the surviving partner has no automatic right of inheritance, and the dead person’s share simply becomes part of his or her estate, to be distributed either according to the terms of any will they may have, or according to the rules of intestacy (which in practice means that it goes to any living relatives in a strictly laid-down order of precedence, or even reverts to the Crown).

In such cases, the only recourse open to the surviving co-owner would be to buy out the deceased’s share.

So, the first thing you need to do is to clarify precisely on what basis the property is owned.

If only one of your names is actually on the deeds, then it is absolutely imperative that that person makes a will, otherwise the surviving partner has no rights of ownership or inheritance whatsoever.

Similarly, if you own the property jointly as Tenants in Common, then both of you should make so-called ‘mirror wills,’ whereby each of you becomes both sole beneficiary and sole executor to the other.

If on the other hand, you own the property as Joint Tenants, then you will both automatically inherit.

But, I would still suggest that you make wills anyway, to cover everything else.