Cohabiting couples with children to qualify for bereavement benefit

Cohabiting couples are to qualify for bereavement payments if one of them dies leaving dependent children.

Previously, a surviving parent could only claim the financial support if they had been married or in a civil partnership at the time of their spouse or civil partner’s death.

Under plans being drawn up by the government, Widowed Parent’s Allowance and Bereavement Support Payments will be extended to surviving cohabiting partners with children who were living with their partner at the time of death.

It’s estimated that more than 22,000 families will now be able to claim this help, totalling an additional £320 million in support for bereaved children over the next five years.

Work and Pensions Minister Baroness Stedman-Scott said: “The death of a loved one is devastating and can also come with significant financial implications. This change will mean more families can access support during the most difficult of times, and I hope to make that possible as swiftly as I can.”

Once approved by Parliament, the changes will apply retrospectively from 30 August 2018, with any backdated payments being made as lump sums.

The changes are to be welcomed but cohabiting couples still have far fewer legal protections than those who are married or in civil partnerships.

In fact, cohabitees have very few automatic legal rights, which means they could lose their home and large sums of money if their relationship ends. For example, one partner may be forced to move out of their home if their name is not on the title deeds, even if they have lived there for many years and helped to pay the mortgage.

The Law Society has urged cohabiting couples to draw up living together agreements to decide in advance how their assets should be divided if their relationship breaks down.

It has offered helpful advice on the kind of areas cohabitation agreements can cover. These include:

  • how you pay rent, mortgage or household bills
  • finances, for example what happens to joint bank accounts or pensions
  • property and assets – owned before or bought while living together
  • arrangements for children
  • pets
  • next of kin rights.

Pension access and property title deeds are also important areas to consider alongside a cohabitation agreement.

Each partner should also make a will if they want to make sure they inherit from each other if one of them dies. This could be particularly important for those who are still married to a previous partner but now live with someone else. If you don’t make a will and are still married, your estranged spouse could end up inheriting most of your estate leaving your current partner with nothing or very little.

It is important to consult your solicitor to ensure the cohabitation agreements are properly drawn up.

For an agreement to be valid both partners need to enter into it freely and voluntarily, the agreement needs to be in the form of a deed and each person needs to sign it.

Each partner should get legal advice independently of one another to make sure they understand and are happy with the agreement. It’s also important to keep the cohabitation agreement updated to cover new events such as the birth of a child or the purchase of property.

Please contact us if you would more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of family law.

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