We look at the test for living in the same household for cohabitess under the Inheritance Act

Inheritance Act claims – Living in the same household

In this blog, we look at what the requirement to be living in the same household as the deceased, in relation to Inheritance Act claims by cohabitees for  under the Inheritance Act 1975.

Cohabitees claiming under the Inheritance Act 1975

The Inheritance Act 1975 allows cohabitees – both opposite sex and same sex – to claim under the Inheritance Act 1975 if they have been left out of their partner’s will altogether, or have only been left a small amount. It also allows cohabitees to claim if there is no will. The laws of intestacy do not currently allow provision for a cohabitee, so a cohabitee left out of a will must rely on the Inheritance Act 1975. Section 1(1A) of the Inheritance Act allows

…a person … during the whole of the period of two years ending immediately before the date when the deceased died, the person was living—

(a)in the same household as the deceased, and

(b)as the husband or wife of the deceased.

to bring a claim. An identical provision in section (1)1B allows same sex cohabitees to bring the same claim.

Living in the same household

In the case of Re Dix, deceased 2004 EWCA Civ 139 , the Court of Appeal agreed that

  • The court didn’t need to restrict itself to the two-year period immediately preceding the death when considering nature of the couple’s relationship.
  • The “household” goes wider than simply living together. It includes the public and private acknowledgment of their mutual society, and the mutual protection and support that binds a couple together.
  • There is a difference between a couple living apart because of a breakdown of the relationship, and a couple living apart for some other, transitory reason, when the relationship continued.

In that case, Mrs Gully went to live with the deceased, Mr Dix in 1974. They lived together until 1999, when Mr Dix sustained head injuries and became unable to care for himself. His drinking caused him to threaten to self-harm in front of his partner. There followed a number of separations, and in August 2001, she again left temporarily, following another incident of threatened self-harm. Mr Dix was found dead at his home in October 2001. Mrs Gully had not gone back to live with him after she left in August. The question for the Court of Appeal was whether she could be said to have lived in his household for 2 years before Mr Dix died. The Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the original judge that Mrs Gully could be said to have been living in the household for the 2 years prior to Mr Dix’s death. The fact that she was not living in the same house did not mean she was not part of the ‘household’.

Dix applied in Kaur v Dhaliwal

In the case of Kaur v Dhaliwal [2014] EWHC 1991, the court applied the principles in Re Dix to slightly more complex facts. Mr Dhaliwal, the deceased, had met Miss Kaur in May 2005, shortly after his wife had committed suicide. They got engaged in June 2005. Mr Dhaliwal had been accused of manslaughter in relation to the suicide but acquitted in March 2006. The acquittal was upheld on appeal in May 2006.

Mr Dhaliwal was living with his sons in the family home at the time of the engagement, so the couple kept it secret, but Mr Dhaliwal would stay with Miss Kaur at her house, and Miss Kaur began to work in Mr Dhaliwal’s café, eventually working 7 days a week in the café. Although the intention was to keep the relationship secret, the sons found out, and strongly disapproved of the relationship.

In July 2006, the couple moved into a flat owned by Mr Dhaliwal, and lived there together until September 2006. In September 2006, Miss Kaur moved out of the flat. The couple spent 2 weeks together staying with a friend in May or June 2007, and then in July 2007, they moved in to another flat together and lived there as husband and wife until June 2009. The period they had lived together immediately before Mr Dhaliwal died amounted to 1 year and 49 weeks – so 3 weeks short of the 2 years demanded by section 1(1A).

The sons argued that the extent of the period that the couple had not lived in the same house – some 8 or 9 months – was too long to count as a temporary separation. The appealed the original decision which was remitted back to the original judge, He considered the facts again, and reached the same conclusion. The provisions of the Inheritance Act 1975 for ‘cohabitees’ go beyond simply living together for the 2 years period immediately before the death of one of them. The nature of the relationship during any physical separation is relevant. In this case, the couple had continued to work together, and had been together visiting a friend in May or June 2007.

Comment from our will dispute expert

Cohabiting couples are in a weak position before the law generally. Many people think they are protected because they are in a ‘common law marriage’. but this is incorrect. ‘Common law marriage’ has no status in law. Cohabiting couples have very little protection, and often they do not realise this until one of the couple passes away and the remaining partner finds out that they do not inherit anything. This could be because their partner had not updated their will, or because there is no will and the intestacy rules do not cover cohabitees. The best solution for cohabiting couple is to make sure they have up to date wills. Failing that a claim under the Inheritance Act 1975 may be the only option – get in touch to find out more.