As the introduction of the Civil Partnership Bill looms, the Institute of Professional Willwriters is urging same sex couples planning to become civil partners to update their Will before they sign any paperwork, or they could find their previous inheritance arrangements invalidated.
Many gay and lesbian individuals already provide for the future of their same sex partner by having a Will that allows their partner to inherit everything, should they die.
This action has typically been taken because the current intestacy laws do not recognise the rights of a gay or lesbian partner.
Now, the Civil Partnership Bill will put a civil partnership, in inheritance terms, on a par with marriage. Just as a marriage revokes any Will that one of the partners had before the ceremony, so too will a civil partnership.
The impact of this is that if a pre-existing Will is not amended before a couple enter into a civil partnership, and a new Will is not made afterwards, then the civil partner who has drawn up that Will is going to die intestate probably without their knowledge.
Their true wishes in relation to their estate could by ignored and the provision that they had made prior to their civil partnership will become totally irrelevant.
Although the civil partner, who would probably have been the beneficiary of the previous Will, would inherit under intestacy laws, they might not inherit everything.
Under the new law, if the deceased has no children, their civil partner would receive the deceaseds personal chattels, the first 200,000 of the estate and half of any residue over that amount.
The other half of the residue would pass to the deceaseds parents, if still alive or, if not, to siblings and then to other relatives.
Paul Sharpe, chairman of the IPW, says: “We are convinced many same sex couples are overlooking this fundamental aspect to the civil partnership legislation, with the majority being totally unaware that it could overturn previous provisions that have been made for partners.
“There has been much focus on pension rights, life assurance and taxation regulations, but very little mention of the impact this legislation has on inheritance.
“Where a Will already exists, it needs to be rewritten, making it clear that the Will is being drawn up in contemplation of civil partnership. This will prevent the Will being revoked by that civil partnership.
“Where no Will has been written, the couple need to recognise the impact a civil partnership is going to have on inheritance, which will be exactly the same as marriage. They need to write a Will if they wish their partner to inherit everything, or the law will dictate where the estate is allocated.”
The impact that marriage has on a previous Will is equally lost on many individuals, who fail to have their Will rewritten to take account of their changed circumstances.
These aspects to intestacy laws are something that the IPW continuously strives to highlight, always encouraging consumers to check that their Will is perfectly worded, as poor use of language, or inadequate phraseology, is a common reason for disappointment amongst family and friends, once a Will is read.