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What should happen when one partner dies?

The Property (Relationships) Act 1976 applies when a couple separates. It also applies when a person in a relationship dies.

Some people may leave little property for their partners under their wills. In fact, sometimes a surviving partner may have been better off if the couple had separated.

The law tries to avoid that situation. If a person in a relationship dies, the law gives the surviving partner a choice:

  1. The partner can elect whether to take whatever he or she is given under the deceased partner’s will (or the rules of intestacy if there is no will). Or,
  2. The surviving partner can choose instead to divide the couple’s property under the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 as if they were both still alive but had separated.

If the surviving partner chooses the second option they get half the couple’s relationship property. The other half will go to the deceased’s estate. That property will be distributed according to the deceased’s will. But because the surviving partner has already received half the relationship property, the law says the surviving partner cannot take any gifts made under the will.

When a person in a relationship dies, we want to know what property you think the surviving partner should get.

We also want to know if it is a good idea for the surviving partner to choose between the will and a property division.

We suspect that many people do not know the law gives people this choice. Some people might find the rules too confusing. We want to know whether you think people understand the law.

There are, of course, many differences between where a couple separate and where one partner dies. It is very difficult to make the same rules apply to each situation. We want to know what you think about two particular scenarios:

  1. What should happen when the partners have only been together for a short time before one of them dies?
  2. What should happen when the deceased partner has not left much property for other family members?
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