Call to update inheritance law
The unmarried partner of someone who dies without a will should be able to inherit their estate without going to court if they have lived together for at least five years, legal experts have said.
The Law Commission, which reviews and recommends reform of the law in England and Wales, said this should be reduced to two years if the unmarried couple had children.
Its report on inheritance law also said spouses should inherit the whole estate if the partner dies without a will and there are no children.
Currently, spouses are entitled to the first £250,000 and personal possessions but in cases where more is left, they may have to share with children, siblings or parents.
The commission also called for the law to be simplified to help the bereaved deal with the property of a deceased family member, and said children who lose a parent should not be at risk of losing their inheritance if they are adopted.
Every year, tens of thousands of people die without a will and the current laws date back to 1925, it said.
Professor Elizabeth Cooke, the commissioner leading the project, said: "It is important to have clear, modern and fair rules for dealing with the property of a person who has died.
"The recommendations we present today follow extensive research and consultation on how the law of inheritance should operate in the 21st century. They would benefit many thousands of people at one of the most difficult times of their lives. At the same time, they preserve one of our important freedoms, namely the right to choose to whom we leave property by will, subject to a limited range of potential family provision claims."
The measures are part of a major review of inheritance law aimed at updating it for "modern families". Current laws leave unmarried couples with no automatic rights to a share of a partner's estate. Even if they go to court, they are likely to get less than if the couple had tied the knot.
It is estimated that as many as 350,000 people die without making a will every year - some with vast fortunes.