Will my partner's family inherit my assets if he and I die at the same time?

In December I bought a flat with my partner. Our mortgage advisor said that if we both to die at the same time, my partner's family would inherit our assets because he is younger than me. How can we avoid this happening?
Question: I bought a flat with my partner in December and our mortgage adviser said that were we both to die at the same time, it would be assumed that the younger of us — ie my partner — died last, and our assets would be passed to him and then to his side of the family, while mine would get nothing. I think it is very unfair if my parents or siblings would not be entitled to anything simply because my partner was born a few months after me. I have looked online to see if this outdated law is true but have found mixed answers. Is there any way we can avoid this happening? I would like to make sure we have something in place so that his family doesn’t get my hard-earned assets. My partner agrees. What should we do?

Answer: There is an old legal doctrine called “commorientes” which says that where two people die at the same time and it cannot be determined who died first, the younger of the two will be treated as having survived longest. However, you can ensure that the rule does not apply by making a Will that states the other party will not inherit unless they survive you by, for example, 30 days. In any case, if you are not married your partner may not be entitled to anything at all unless you specify it in your Will. If you marry and then die without having made Wills, the commorientes rule is automatically disapplied and the surviving spouse would be the primary beneficiary under rules that apply on intestacy.

Overall it would be best if you made your Wills.

What’s your problem? If you have a question for Fiona McNulty, please email legalsolutions@standard.co.uk  or write to Legal Solutions, Homes & Property, London Evening Standard, 2 Derry Street, W8 5EE. We regret that questions cannot be answered individually but we will try to feature them here. Fiona McNulty is a partner in the residential property, farms and estates team at Withy King LLP (www.withyking.co.uk).

These answers can only be a very brief commentary on the issues raised and should not be relied on as legal advice. No liability is accepted for such reliance. If you have similar issues, you should obtain advice from a solicitor.

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