Having just bought our first home together our solicitor is keen for us to make a will. Is this really necessary?
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A. Strictly speaking, it isn’t necessary to make a will, just because you have bought a home together. That said, however, I would strongly advise you to do so. For a couple in their 20s, this might seem a touch morbid, but actually it’s just common sense – and particularly so since you are neither married nor, I assume, in a civil partnership. After all, you have just made probably the biggest single investment in your lives, so you want to be sure that it is protected.
Ultimately, everything hinges on the basis on which you actually bought your home. For example, many people talk about “buying a home together,” when in fact only one of them actually owns it, and from a legal standpoint they are simply co-habiting. In such cases, a will is an absolute necessity – otherwise the surviving partner has no rights of ownership or inheritance whatsoever, in the event that the legal owner dies.
You may, on the other hand, have bought your home in joint names. But even here, there are actually two different ways in which property can be jointly owned, with significant differences between them.
So, if you own the property as “Beneficial Joint Tenants,” then basically you are both equal legal owners, and each of you will automatically become the sole owner of the whole property if the other dies.
If however you own the property as “Beneficial Tenants in Common,” then the surviving partner has no automatic right of inheritance, and the dead person’s share simply becomes part of his or her estate, to be distributed either according to the terms of any will they may have, or according to the rules of intestacy (which in practice means that it goes to any living relatives in a strictly laid-down order of precedence, or even reverts to the Crown). In such cases, the only recourse open to the surviving co-owner would be to buy out the deceased’s share.
So, the first thing you need to do is to clarify precisely on what basis the two of you own the property. And the second is – make a will!