According to recent research, over three million opposite-sex couples live together in the UK. They are also the fastest-growing household group in Britain. Yet they are offered none of the same tax reliefs as married couples or same-sex civil partners.
But what about ‘common law marriage’ – does that offer some protection? Sadly, though the notion of ‘common law marriage’ is a popular one – with many co-habitees mistakenly believing this mechanism offers them similar rights to legally-married couples – it is a misnomer. In fact, no alternative to marriage existed that would provide the same protections or tax benefits to co-habiting couples – until now.
Thanks in large part to equality campaigners Rebecca Steinfield and Charles Keidan, civil partnerships are now an option for opposite-sex couples. Following a long and turbulent battle, Steinfield and Keidan’s fight to establish opposite-sex civil partnerships culminated in a Supreme Court ruling in June 2018, which found that restrictions on civil partnerships were in breach of human rights.
As of 31 December 2019, opposite-sex couples are now able to enter into a civil partnership and enjoy the same tax benefits as a married couple. There are many advantages, though arguably the biggest advantage of getting ‘civilly partnered’ is the inheritance tax benefit. The spouse exemption means that civil partners can pass assets between them – inheritance tax free – both in lifetime and on death. The nil-rate band amount of £325,000 is also transferrable between civil partners. Furthermore, if you die without a will, your partner is protected to some extent by the intestacy rules (although we would always advise you to have a will drawn up).
There are many reasons why a civil partnership might be an appealing option. Our wills and estate planning specialist Harriet Turnbull says: ‘For a growing number of couples, though they are in committed and deeply-valued relationships, marriage is simply not an option – for a variety of reasons (from ethical issues about the arguably patriarchal heritage of marriage to concerns about it being an act of social conformity). This can leave them in a vulnerable position later in life, particularly in terms of inheritance and estate planning. For such couples it is well worth considering a civil partnership – and we have been pleasantly surprised at the high demand for this new mechanism since the law was passed in December 2019.’ A word of caution from Harriet, though: ‘Entering into a civil partnership invalidates an existing will, so make sure you speak to your solicitor to ensure you protect your will before you go ahead!’
Civil Partnerships: FAQs
If I enter into a civil partnership, will I now benefit from the same tax rules as married couples?
Yes, as of 31 December 2019, you will.
Do I need a new will if I enter into a civil partnership?
Yes, as the civil partnership will invalidate any prior will.
What rights will my civil partner have in the event of my death?
The same as any other married or same-sex civil partnership couple: £325,000 inheritance tax relief (and the ability to transfer that relief between partners).
How do I arrange a civil partnership?
You should contact a qualified wedding provider – they will be well set up to help you with this. The team at Bellevue Law are focused on securing and protecting your rights under your will.
What if I don’t want to get married or enter into a civil partnership – do I need a will?
If you decide that neither of these options is right for you, it is imperative that you make a will. If you were to pass away without first making a will, your partner would be in an extremely vulnerable position: intestacy rules don’t recognise co-habiting partners. In order to ensure that, in the event of your death, your partner is provided for, we strongly recommend that you make a will without delay.
If you’re thinking of entering into a civil partnership and would like to update your will, we’re here to help. Our skilled lawyers are on hand to guide you through the process, providing sensitive, specialist advice that is tailored to your needs. Please contact us today for a friendly chat about the next steps.
Disclaimer: this material is a general overview only, and is not intended to provide legal advice.