Recent figures show a significant decrease in the marriage rate. From a peak in 1940 when, spurred on by an impending war, 426,1000 young couples married, in total just 228,204 marriages took place during 2008 in England and Wales.
The falling marriage rate is partly attributable to a rise in the number of people choosing to remain single but is mostly down to the fact that more and more couples are choosing not to marry and this has ramifications for their financial planning.
Let us consider the example of Paul and Sarah. They own a property valued at £600,000. The property is owned 60% by Paul and 40% by Sarah, reflecting their differing initial deposits. They have an outstanding mortgage of £100,000. The mortgage is covered by a life assurance policy which will pay out on the first death. They also have a joint savings account with a balance of £50,000. They have wills which leave assets to each other on the first death.
Sadly Paul suffers a fatal heart attack. His estate is valued as follows:
Property £300,000 (60% share less mortgage)
Life assurance benefit £100,000
Savings Account £25,000
Assets passing between UK domiciled spouses are exempt from Inheritance Tax but the same exemption is not afforded to cohabiting couples and therefore the value of the estate above the nil rate band (currently £325,000) will attract Inheritance Tax at 40%. This means Sarah will need to settle a tax bill of £40,000 before probate can be granted.
The tax bill could have been easily avoided simply by writing the life assurance policy in trust so that it did not form part of Paul’s taxable estate. This would also mean that the proceeds would be available immediately without the need to wait for probate to be granted which can take many months.
The position could have been considerably worse had Paul and Sarah not written Wills. Under the laws of intestacy, where there are no children, cohabiting partners do not receive anything and Sarah could have found herself co-owning the house with Paul’s parents.