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Victory for cohabitee highlights need for an up to date Will

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By Laura Walkley

A woman whose partner of eighteen years died, leaving her nothing in his outdated Will, has this week won a surprise victory in a bitter legal battle for his half of the home they shared. His estranged wife – the beneficiary of his Will – has been ordered to pay £100,000 worth of legal costs incurred in fighting the claim.

Joy Williams and Norman Martin lived together in Dorchester for almost two decades before Mr Martin died in 2012. Throughout that time, he remained married to his wife, Maureen. He never got round to updating the Will he had made during happier times with Maureen, which left her his estate.

Williams and Martin co-owned their home, now valued at £320,000. It was held in such a way that when one of them died, the survivor would not automatically inherit the deceased’s share; it would instead pass under the terms of his or her Will, regardless of how out-of-date that Will might have been.

Joy Williams, as cohabitee, had no automatic rights when her partner died and was therefore forced to launch a claim against his estate. The ‘fair and reasonable result’, according to the judge who heard the case, was for her to receive Mr Martin’s share of their home as a reflection of their ‘loving and committed’ relationship.

Joy Williams described her understandable ‘relief and delight’ at the verdict, but explained that the process had been arduous and that the law’s failure to recognise a long-term relationship had been traumatic.

In a further blow, Maureen Martin was further ordered to pay legal costs for her losing defence of a level described by her barrister as ‘eye-watering’.

This difficult, distressing case is a salient reminder of the vital importance of ensuring that you have a Will in place which reflects what you want to happen on your death, and – just as importantly – of keeping that Will up to date.

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