Civil partnerships: Exploring the financial benefits
In October 2018, former Prime Minister Theresa May announced that the law would be changed to allow mixed-sex couples in England and Wales to enter civil partnerships. As of 2 December 2019, mixed-sex couples are now able to register their intent to enter a civil partnership, with the first ceremonies due to take place on 31 December 2019.
In recent years there has been a noticeable shift towards couples choosing to cohabit as opposed to entering into marriage. In fact, cohabiting couples continue to be the fastest-growing family type, with data from the Office for National Statistics indicating that marriages between men and women recently hit the lowest rate on record. It remains to be seen whether the option to enter a civil partnership will influence the cohabiting trend.
Those in mixed-sex civil partnerships will benefit from the same rights as married couples. The key difference is that a civil partnership is often free of any religious connotations and ideas of ownership and control – making it an attractive alternative for those who wish to legally recognise their relationship without aligning to a specific religion or tradition.
Contrary to common belief, couples who live together are not entitled to the same protection or tax breaks as married couples and until now, couples who were opposed to marriage had no other option than to cohabit. Undoubtedly, the ability to legally recognise a loving and committed relationship between two people will always be the main motive for entering into a civil partnership. Yet, there are several other reasons why couples may decide to legally formalise their union, one of which being the often-substantial financial perks which arise on the death of one of the civil partners.
From an income tax perspective, civil partners are entitled to the same income tax allowance as married couples. Often known as marriage tax allowance, if one lower earning partner is not utilising their entire personal allowance (£12,500 for 2019/20) they can transfer up to £1,250 of it to the higher earning partner, making a saving of £250 a year.
Similarly, from an inheritance tax perspective, civil partners will benefit from a complete exemption and the surviving partner will not need to pay any inheritance tax should they inherit the first to die’s estate. The surviving civil partner can also effectively double the amount that they can leave to family and friends on their death without having to pay inheritance tax, by transferring the first to die’s unused nil rate band. Should the first partner leave their entire estate to their surviving partner, it is possible to combine the nil rate bands – meaning that when the second partner dies an amount of £650,000 can be passed on tax-free. The same rules apply to the newer residence nil rate band and consequently, civil partners could ultimately benefit from a combined inheritance tax free allowance of up to £1million as of 6 April 2020 (subject to certain restrictions).
Civil partners can also inherit their partner’s tax-free ISA allowance, equal to the value or balance of any ISAs held by the first to die, by making use of the Additional Permitted Subscription (APS). This approach ensures that the tax-efficiency of the deceased’s ISA, which may well have been saved together by the couple, is not lost when transferred to the surviving partner.
Correspondingly, while the transfer of capital assets between cohabitees remains subject to capital gains tax on any gain in value they may have accrued, civil partners and spouses benefit from the fact that these transactions become tax neutral. This can present many benefits for civil partners, enabling them to manoeuvre funds and assets between them without the danger of generating an immediate charge to capital gains tax.
From a pension perspective, there are also tangible benefits to being in a civil partnership as both private and occupational pension schemes must offer the same rights to civil and married partners. Additionally, it may also be possible for a surviving partner to claim a higher state retirement pension, based on the deceased partner’s national insurance contributions.
It is however important to remember that, just like marriage, there will be several administrative tasks to take care of when entering into a civil partnership. Any existing wills that may have been prepared before the partnership was recognised will be voided by the partnership itself and new wills should be drafted as soon as possible.
Equally, it is important to think about the assets that both parties will be bringing to the partnership and how they would be split in the event of the relationship breaking down. Those considering entering into a civil partnership should seek advice as to the suitability of preparing a prenuptial agreement to ensure that the intentions of both partners are recorded.
All couples, regardless of the legal status of their relationship, should consider their estate planning opportunities and how they can take advantage of sensible financial planning strategies to safeguard their estates for each other and their wider families. Ultimately, the extension of the law to allow mixed-sex couples to enter civil partnerships presents cohabiting couples with far greater flexibility and autonomy, while equally offering an opportunity to secure financial protection.
Matt Parr is an associate in the private client team at law firm, Shakespeare Martineau