The announcement that civil partnerships are to be extended to mixed-sex couples has been met with mixed reactions. There are those who are wholly in favour, and there are those who think there is no need as mixed-sex couples have, for centuries, been able to get married, and that now that there is marriage equality in England, Wales and Scotland, civil partnerships should be withdrawn.
Two sisters are now calling on the government to extend mixed-sex civil partnerships to siblings. Catherine and Virginia Utley have lived together for over 30 years, bought a house together and have jointly raised Catherine’s daughter. When one of them dies, the other faces a large Inheritance Tax bill, which will probably mean she will have to sell the home they have lived in and shared for over 23 years. They want to be able to enter into a civil partnership with each other to be able to benefit from the Inheritance Tax advantages that are available to couples in either a civil partnership or marriage. The sisters have said that they feel excluding siblings from civil partnerships is “pure discrimination”.
Most people make a Will so that when they die, their estate is divided among family and friends in the way that they (the testator) wish. But what happens if the estate is left to, say, a spouse and children and they all perish in the same accident as the benefactor?
This is what tragically happened to the Cousins family at the end of 2017. Mr Cousins (a multi-millionaire), his fiancé, her daughter and his two sons all died in a seaplane accident. Mr Cousins had previously had a Will drawn up that would have left the majority of his fortune in trust to his sons, but he also had a “common tragedy” clause written into the Will.
Divorce is a very difficult and distressing life-event, and people are quite often emotionally fragile and hurt; sometimes this leads to anger and the inability to think clearly, and logic and common sense often disappear out of the window. Anyone who has been divorced will likely have a story to tell that will make people gasp in surprise, but some disputes and demands made during the divorce are extraordinary. Here is a small selection:
The casserole dish
A divorcing couple had almost sorted out their division of assets and belongings save for a single casserole dish. It was not valuable and held no sentimental value to either the wife or the husband. For some reason, the husband decided that he wanted the casserole dish and proceeded to send his wife a number of aggressive letters about the ovenware. Eventually, she got so fed up with his constant demands, she took an axe to the dish, chopped it in half, swept up half the broken bits into a box, gift-wrapped the box and handed them to the husband. He never mentioned the casserole dish again.
The Felt-Tip pens
In the midst of a protracted and bitter divorce dispute, the wife’s solicitor sent a strongly worded letter to the husband, demanding the immediate return of some felt-tip pens. The husband obliged; the felt-tip pens had dried out long ago and were of no use to him anyway.
To ensure that your wishes are carried out after you’ve gone, it’s essential to make a Will, preferably with the help of a Wills solicitor. Many people see making a Will as a chance to ensure their loved ones are well provided for, but some people choose to do this in more unusual ways than others. Here is a look at some of the strangest bequests made in Wills.
My Second-Best Bed
When William Shakespeare died in 1616, he left the majority of his money and properties to his daughters. Shakespeare left almost nothing to his wife, Anne, save his “second best bed” and some other furniture. Initially, the Will did not mention his wife at all. The bequest of the “second best bed” was only added in less than a month before he died. It may have been the case that the aforementioned bed was the marital bed and therefore was of special significance to Anne. It was common in the 17th Centenary for people to bequeath their beds to someone, usually a spouse or close relative.
Q: My partner and I are in our 50s, we own a property outright as tenants in common. We do not intend to get married as we have both been married (and divorced) before. I am worried that if my partner were to die, his estranged adult children would inherit his estate, leaving me in a difficult position financially in respect of the property. I am also concerned about the issue of having to pay Inheritance Tax on my partner’s estate.
A: Yours is not an unusual situation; many middle-aged couples have chosen to live together without being married.
It is understandable that you are concerned about what would happen to you should your partner die without having left a Will. When someone dies without a Will, then the estate is divided in line with the Rules of Intestacy and, unfortunately, intestacy law still does not recognise couples who are unmarried or not in a civil partnership. This would mean that either your partner’s children would inherit his half of the house you live in and may insist you buy out their share, or the house would have to be sold.