Rise of ‘deathbed marriage’ highlights lack of protection for unmarried couples

29th August 2018

Rise of ‘deathbed marriage’ highlights lack of protection for unmarried couples

Days before the death of Sir Ken Dodd in March this year, a vicar was hastily called to the comedian’s bedside to conduct the 90-year-old’s marriage to Anne Jones, his partner of 40 years.

While it may have been that the couple wished to make a final declaration of their eternal love for one another, the more likely motivation was financial. Had Sir Ken died without tying the not, Anne would have had no benefit or inheritance rights to the comic’s fortune.

It is, of course, not only the rich and famous who should consider the risks of not marrying or entering into a civil partnership (currently available only to same-sex couples). The same stark principles apply to those with more modest estates – namely that upon the death of a partner, unmarried cohabitants do not have rights to their pension, are exposed to inheritance tax and cannot claim certain benefits.

Concerns over the economic vulnerability of unmarried couples have increased in recent years due to a sharp rise in cohabitation and a decline in the number of marriages. Campaigners are now urging the Government to provide proper legal protection to those living outside of wedlock and, in doing so, tackle the myth of common-law marriage rights in England and Wales.

A coalition of organisations, including the Bar Council, the Law Society, Resolution, Relate, Rights of Women, OnlyMums and OnlyDads, are warning that couples still mistakenly believe they have the same legal and financial rights and protections as those who are married.

The number of families formed by unmarried, cohabiting couples has rocketed recently, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). In 1996 there were 1.5 million cohabiting families in the UK – but by 2017, the figure had risen to 3.3 million.

Meanwhile, marriage rates have fallen to an all-time low. In 2015, the most recent full year for which figures are available, there were 239,020 marriages between opposite sex couples – down 3.4 per cent on 2014. And of those who do tie the knot, 42 per cent end in divorce.

At the same time, so-called deathbed marriages like Sir Ken Dodd’s have increased. Passport Office figures reveal that in the three months to May 2018 there were 190 licences to marry in hospital or jails issued, while in 2015 the quarterly average was only around 148.

How can Gotelee help?

Gotelee has worked with a number of clients who have found themselves in difficulty of this kind, many of whom have sleepwalked into problems, unaware of their lack of rights as an unmarried couple until it is too late.

We have also seen complications when a couple have lived together and one is separated from a previous partner but not divorced. Should the married partner fall ill, they are left with the burden of having to arrange a divorce and then a marriage at an already fraught time.

To ensure you and your loved ones are protected, making proper arrangements now is always a sensible option. Gotelee’s expert lawyers can talk you through the process and explain exactly where you stand and what you need to do to secure financial security.

To find out how we can help you, call us on 01473 211121 or visit us at one of our offices in Ipswich, Felixstowe, Hadleigh or Woodbridge.

Chartered Legal Executive and Associate
Head of Marketing and Business Development
Chartered Legal Executive, Associate
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