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Yarmouth man's homelessness fear due to lack of will

PUBLISHED: 09:48 21 October 2011

Colin Goodwin who lost the rights to his partners estate when he died because he married before the government recognised homosexual marriages should have the same legal rights.; Picture: James Bass

Colin Goodwin who lost the rights to his partners estate when he died because he married before the government recognised homosexual marriages should have the same legal rights.; Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2011

A GREAT Yarmouth man who faces losing his home after his partner passed away has urged couples to be aware of their marital rights.

Colin Goodwin could be left without the house he has lived in for 17 years because the marriage to his late partner Michael Chatwin is not recognised by law.

The couple completed a civil ceremony in 1994 - 10 years before the civil partnership act was introduced to give same-sex couples the marital rights of heterosexual couples.

And because Mr Chatwin did not complete a will, the deeds to his estate are set to pass to his immediate family, which has left Mr Goodwin without his partner’s estate, including the right to arrange his funeral.

Mr Goodwin, 37, of Southtown Road, Great Yarmouth, now has to contest probate to discover whether or not he can claim his partner’s estate.

The Law

Common-law relationships have no legal basis, no matter how long they have lasted, according to Sue Hammett, a solicitor specialising in wills and probate at law firm Howes Percival.

This means that any ceremony you might have had other than a formal marriage or civil partnership would not offer the same protection under law.

“The Civil Partnerships Act 2004 came into force in December 2005,” Ms Hammett said.

“Same-sex partnerships entered into before then were not given legal recognition by the act, so it has only been possible to be civil partners – and for the relationship to have legal recognition – since then.”

The gap in the law when it comes to common-law relationships means that if partners haven’t made wills, each partner’s estate will pass to their own blood relatives under the Intestacy Rules.

“The surviving partner can only claim against the other partner’s estate for maintenance, and they must have been living together throughout the two years before the death,” said Ms Hammett.

“There is no exemption from inheritance tax (as there is for spouses and civil partners) so there may be a heavy tax bill, and most private sector pensions don’t automatically benefit cohabitees.”

Furthermore, if a common-law couple separates, assets are not shared in the same way they are in a divorce or when a civil partnership is dissolved. In other words, the law can have completely unexpected results.

The Law Commission recommended reform of this area of law in 2007, but no action was subsequently taken and the government recently announced it does not intend to review cohabitation law in this parliamentary term.

So if you are in a common-law relationship and you are one of the estimated 30 million UK adults not to have a will, it’s worth taking action now to help ensure that neither you nor your partner suffers financial heartbreak in the future.

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He said: “My main fear is that I could be left homeless. I’m not sure it will come to that, but the very fact it could happen is frightening.

“But I am also worried that all of his assets will be taken away from me and I will have nothing left to remember him by.

“The law is still so confusing for same-sex people. Most people just don’t know what rights they have, so I want to make people aware of what their rights are.”

Mr Chatwin, was rushed to hospital with pneumonia and emphysema after he collapsed in his home.

The 52-year-old spent five weeks on a life support machine at the James Paget University, before dying 
of intestinal failure on October 5.

Meanwhile, his mother Grace Chatwin, 83, died of cancer in the GP unit at Northgate Hospital, Yarmouth, while he was in hospital.

Mr Goodwin, who cared for his partner’s mother before her death, claimed Mr Chatwin had talked about writing a will, but always said he was too young to think about it.

He said: “Michael was a bubbly outgoing person who was fun to be around and good company. He got on with everybody and never had a bad word to say about anyone.

“A lot of people around Yarmouth knew us and we were liked by the majority of people in the town. No one could believe we had been together all those years.”

The family of Michael Chatwin did not wish to comment.

A funeral will be held at St Nicholas Church, Great Yarmouth, on Tuesday at 1.30pm.

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