Be warned if you are cohabiting with your partner, he or she may be left with nothing if you die.
Experts have come out to remind life partners that although the relationship may feel like a marriage, it’s not and complications usually arise when one partner dies.
Today there are about 3.5 million South African couples who are cohabiting. While this number may seem high and a concern for many people, experts warn the real issue comes when the surviving partner walks away empty handed, while they were hoping to get something when their partner dies.
“Couples living together but are not married should be aware that when it comes to legal affairs, not all is fair in love and wills,” says Moremadi Mabule, head of wills at Sanlam Trust. She says this was underscored in a recent dispute involving a long-term girlfriend who wanted to claim from her deceased boyfriend’s estate – a claim that was denied by the high court.
Mabule says that in South Africa, vat ‘n sit, cohabiting or a life partnership – whatever you want to call it – is not legally recognised.
“While life partners may have the characteristics of a marriage, it is not a marriage and not formalised or registered in terms of the Civil Union Act or the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act,” she says, adding that unmarried couples who live together need to be aware of the misconception that if you live together for a period of time, the law will recognise your relationship as a marriage.
Mabule recommends that you draft a will to avoid any drama should one of you pass away. She gives the following tips:
- If as a couple, you are accumulating assets together or individually, make sure you have your intentions documented in your will in terms of how and who you want your assets distributed to.
- Have some form of agreement. For example, a contract of domestic partnership to regulate your financial affairs.
- Record your wishes and intentions regarding your assets for your life partner. In this way, you are protecting each other from family members who may have a different view how your assets should be distributed.