Today I shared a few thoughts on twitter about what legal and financial position you might find yourself in if you’ve been widowed. Please note, I am NOT A LEGAL PROFESSIONAL and this is not legal advice. However, many people seem surprised by the points I shared and so I thought preserving them in this format might be useful.
You may or may not know that if you’re widowed in the UK you’re entitled to bereavement support payments. This is whether or not you have children. You will receive either a £3500 lump sum and then £350 monthly payments for 18 months if you have dependents under 18, or £2500 and £100/month for 18 months if you don’t.
Sounds good, right? Well, it’s better than a kick in the teeth, but there are some caveats.
Firstly, this system replaces a previous system of benefits that included the Widowed Parents pension, which gave you up to £126.35 a week until your dependents are up to 20 years old! This came into effect in April 2017.
If I were entitled to that full pay out, I would be entitled to £6.5k a year until my daughter leaves further education, which would have been over £97,000. Instead I receive my last payment this month, bringing me to total support of £9,800.
Take a moment to just absorb that.
Then swallow the horrible news that if you were not married/civil partnered, no matter how long and devotedly you cohabited, you are currently not entitled to anything. “The courts have ruled that denying bereavement benefits to these families because the parents were not married is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)”. Despite this, the government has not moved to act. They claim that it is a top priority, but I have to wonder if they’re trying to spin out decisions like this until they’re able to get rid of the Human Rights Act. Is that too tinfoil hattish? I guess time will tell.
In general, although this is not legal advice, my personal advice is if you’re reading this and you’re not a widow/er but you are in a committed cohabiting relationship and especially if you have children, the best legal decision you can make for your family is to get married/form a civil partnership. (These two states are almost identical in legal terms.) If you absolutely refuse to do this, or for some reason it’s not possible, then please consult a solicitor and make sure you have a really good wills and lasting power of attorney sorted. Want your partner, not your natal family, to be entitled to making decisions for you in case of incapacitating illness/injury? Want your partner to have custody of your children? Want your partner to decide where your ashes are scattered?! Unfortunately none of these are guaranteed in England and Wales if you are not married. (The situation is a bit different in Scotland, but not as clear cut as a lot of people assume.)
Finally, here’s another kicker, for when you’re looking ahead to retirement. You may be entitled to part of your deceased spouse’s state pension (not the full amount if they haven’t paid National Insurance for the full time required). But only if you don’t remarry.
Yes, I’m afraid so. If, like me, you lose your spouse at 38, you can kiss goodbye to that measly financial benefit once you reach state pension age, 30 years later, if you have the temerity to find a new partner and to make the decision to marry them.
Overall, the position in the UK for bereaved people is not great. But the Commission on Bereavement hopes to change this. I think it will take a change in the party in charge of the UK to make their proposed changes happen, but let’s cross our fingers. Bereaved people deserve better.
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