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Unmarried couples who live together (cohabitees) may be surprised to know that they have no automatic right to inherit their partners estate if they pass away without leaving a Will. Instead, they must rely on The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 and to make a claim they would need to have lived with the deceased for a period of two years prior to their death. A recent High Court ruling highlights the amount of evidence required to succeed in these claims and the detailed level of scrutiny given to these cases, including giving evidence under oath.

In the case of Jassal v Shah, Ms Jassal was left without any provision in her deceased partner’s Will after he left the whole of his estate to his son. Ms Jassal brought a claim for reasonable financial provision, on the basis that she lived with her deceased partner as husband and wife in the years before his death. She was able to convince the judge that they had been living together prior to his death by producing witness evidence from neighbours, as well as text messages between the two of them discussing day to day life as a couple.

However, in making her submissions to support her claim, Ms Jassal alerted the court to the fact that she had been fraudulently claiming housing benefits over an extended period. Ms Jassal had previously submitted to Slough Borough Council that she was living own her own at a different property. In her witness statement she wrote: ‘I accept that I did make a false claim for housing benefit from 2013 until the death of Fiaz. However, I didn’t live at this property at any time during my relationship with Fiaz.

The judge made a 20% discount to the award given to Ms Jassal, as a fair and proportional way to demonstrate the seriousness of her dishonesty. The judge also ordered that £200,000 of the £385,000 award be retained by the executors to allow the authorities’ reasonable time to make claims against Ms Jassal. Ms Jassal may also face criminal sanctions for her dishonest behaviour.

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