The Central London County Court made the surprising decision on 16 February that Joy Williams should inherit her long-term partner's share of the house they lived in together rather than his estranged wife.

Ms Williams had lived at the property with her partner Norman Martin for 18 years. Unfortunately however Mr Martin had not updated his Will to include his long-term cohabitee.

With the law in the favour of Mr Martin's estranged Wife, Ms Williams made a claim for reasonable financial provision to be made for her from Mr Martin's estate.

It is a common misunderstanding that cohabiting couples have automatic rights to each other's property. In reality there is no such thing as a 'common law marriage' and living with your partner does not give you any rights regardless of how many years you have lived together.

If your cohabitee dies you have no entitlement to inherit their estate, unless there is a will in place.

To succeed in her claim, Ms Williams had to show that for two years up to his death she had lived in the same household as Mr Martin as his wife, or that immediately before his death she was maintained 'wholly or partly' by him.

At the court hearing the Judge concluded that Williams was entitled to 'retain an absolute interest' in the house. Mrs Martin, the estranged wife, was ordered to pay £100,000 costs but plans to appeal.  

If Mr Martin had updated his Will then court proceedings could have been avoided.

The case acts as a reminder of the importance of making a will and keeping it up to date if your circumstances change.