Am I legally entitled to a share of the family business?
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In August, my partner and I will have been together for 10 years. We built a business and have children together, but never married. We’re now going through the lengthy process of separation, with my partner arguing that I do not have the right to funds created through either the house or business, which are in his name.
Possibly naively, I’ve always assumed that due to being together for 10 years and having three children, I am legally entitled to my share of the business and house. We have a written, but not legally binding agreement, regarding the business. Can this be used as a valid form of financial proof for my rights?
Charmaine Hast, partner at law firm Wedlake Bell, says that when deciding what your rights are, the fact that you and your partner have been together for 10 years is likely to weigh heavily in your favour if a trend of joint ownership of your business and your house has been set up during that period. All factors will be looked at, and often actions speak louder than words.
In law, registered ownership does not always mean the same as beneficial ownership. Even if the document you have is not legally binding, it may be proof of the fact that you have been involved with the business together with your partner and are an implied joint owner.
The document could also prove the intention of joint ownership and cases like yours are decided on the specific facts. In other words, in respect of both the business and the house, the onus would be on you to prove the intention, which may not be a difficult remit in your circumstances.
In terms of the house, if the intention at the time of the purchase or during the ownership was that it was to be a home owned by both of you, you will need to show evidence of this. Even small events such as sending housewarming invitations to the home of both of you may be able to assist in a small way to prove this.
If the house was purchased with the intention of being a jointly owned home, this is important. If the evidence is not clear from intention, the parties’ conduct will be looked at, which may allow joint ownership to be inferred.
Although financial contribution is relevant, other factors can be taken into account.
Can children write their own wills?
My 17-year-old twins and their 14-year-old sister have inherited a considerable sum (nearly £300,000 each) from their great grandmother. It’s a very difficult subject to broach, but what would happen to the inheritance if one of them were to pass away unexpectedly? Should we encourage our children to write a will? Can children even have a will?
Lilly Whale, an associate in the private client team at law firm Goodman Derrick, says that while it is sensible to consider what would happen to your children’s inheritance should the unthinkable happen, you are not alone in finding this a tricky topic. Figures suggest that three in five adults in the UK do not have a will setting out what happens to their assets on death.
When someone dies intestate, that is without a valid will, a strict set of rules govern the prescribed order of inheritance. Briefly, if the deceased had no spouse or children, their estate passes to parents; siblings; half-siblings; grandparents; aunts or uncles (or their children); or half-aunts or half-uncles (or their children). If there is nobody alive who would fall into any category in this list, the Crown inherits everything.
Therefore if any of your children died without having a will, the simple answer is that their whole estate would pass to you and their other parent outright and in equal shares.
The challenge here is that all your children are under 18 — the age a testator must be for their will to be legally valid. The only exception to this is if they are a minor and either a soldier on military service or a mariner or sailor at sea, but you have given me no reason to think this would apply.
However, clearly at 17 your twins are nearing the age of majority and accordingly a guiding hand now to steer them (and, when the time comes, their sister) in the direction of a will is prudent.
A great deal of hesitancy about writing a will arises from a fear that the process is confusing or unnecessarily cumbersome. While each testator’s circumstances vary, your children’s sound relatively uncomplicated.
Assuming they own no real estate or other larger assets, nor that they have their own children to maintain, at this stage the most important decision is whom they appoint as executors and whom they would want to inherit their estates, if not their parents. Consequently, their wills in all likelihood will be straightforward.
Your children’s wills do not have to be made on the same terms and their beneficiaries are theirs alone to choose. Given the context it may be that your children would opt to leave their respective estates equally to each other on first death and then to you in substitution in the unlikely event that all three had predeceased you. It may help to reduce their nervousness if they instruct a solicitor to guide them and clarify any matters of particular concern to them.
Once in place your children ought to review their wills every three to five years to ensure they accurately reflect their wishes, especially as all are at a stage where their lives and circumstances may change quickly.
The opinions in this column are intended for general information purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for professional advice. The Financial Times Ltd and the authors are not responsible for any direct or indirect result arising from any reliance placed on replies, including any loss, and exclude liability to the full extent.
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