Can we inherit a state pension after 30 years of cohabitation, or do we need a registered partnership? Steve Webb answers

I am 69 and am applying for my state pension. My partner is 65 and is not yet applying for a pension, which will take effect from December 2024.

Should anything happen to either of us, regarding claiming part of a deceased person's state pension, could you please advise us whether we should enter into a registered partnership or is proof that we have been working for more than 30 years? is cohabitation sufficient?

I've tried to find information on the Gov.UK website, but it's a minefield. I'm not sure whether we should enter into a civil partnership before my partner retires or afterwards.


Planning for later life: can we inherit a state pension after 30 years of living together?

Steve Webb replies: As a general principle, the state pension system divides the world into two groups: those who are married (or in a civil partnership) and those who are not.

Even if you have been living together for thirty years, the state pension system is not interested – in the eyes of the state you are still 'single'.

If someone wants to be able to derive AOW rights from his partner, he must in principle have been married or had a registered partnership. (For the sake of brevity, from now on I will simply speak of 'being married', but this should be read as including registered partnerships).

For example, where both parties are covered by the 'old' (pre-April 2016) state pension system, being married is key to benefiting from your partner's national insurance file after their death.

Do you have a question for Steve Webb?  Scroll down to see how you can contact him

Do you have a question for Steve Webb? Scroll down to see how you can contact him

However, I see that both you and your partner are covered by the new state pension system.

Even if you have been married for a long time, the possibility of inheriting if one partner dies is substantially reduced in the new AOW system.

The main situation where you can inherit something is where the deceased had a pension that was higher than the standard flat rate (currently £203.85 per week).

This excess portion is called a 'protected benefit' and the surviving spouse can inherit half of this 'protected benefit'.

Unfortunately, this provision only applies if the marriage was in force when the new AOW pension was introduced on April 6, 2016.

This means that if you marry now, you do not fall within the scope of the inheritance rules as far as the AOW system is concerned.

However, there are a number of other reasons why getting married could still be to your advantage.

– While getting married now may not help with your AOW inheritance rights, it can improve your position when push comes to shove company pensions.

Most occupational pension schemes provide a pension to the surviving spouse, while provisions for surviving (unmarried) partners may be more limited and vary from scheme to scheme.

– As far as the income tax system is concerned, married couples can potentially benefit from the 'marriage allowance' in cases where one spouse is a non-taxpayer and the other is a basic rate taxpayer.

The lower-earning spouse can transfer 10 percent of his/her personal allowance (if not used) to the higher-earning spouse, reducing the couple's overall tax bill.


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If you just live together, you cannot do this. More information about marriage allowance can be found at: Marriage benefit: how it works.

– There are certain ones inheritance tax breaks for married couples that do not apply when couples live together.

In particular, if the first member of a married couple dies and does not use up the entire standard 'zero rate' and/or the 'residential zero rate', the balance can be transferred to a surviving spouse.

> Inheritance tax explained: who pays and how much

In addition to these purely financial benefits, it can be easier for a couple to get married when it comes to dealing with matters after the death of one of the partners.

For example, if someone dies without leaving a will, the surviving spouse generally has automatic inheritance rights, which would not apply if the deceased was not married.

Being part of a married couple can also help in situations where someone is seriously ill and there are questions about the treatment of the sick person.

A hospital may give much more weight to a spouse's opinion than to an unmarried partner, even if they have been lifelong partners.

It is of course ultimately a personal matter between you and your partner if you decide to get married or enter into a registered partnership.

And I understand that it is unlikely that getting married now will make any difference to your state pension position.

But as I've explained, there are a number of other aspects in which getting married can bring financial and non-financial benefits.

Ask Steve Webb a pension question

Former Pensions Minister Steve Webb is the suffering uncle of This Is Money.

He is ready to answer your questions, whether you are still saving, retiring or working on your finances in retirement.

Steve left the Department for Work and Pensions after the May 2015 election. He is now a partner at actuary and consultancy firm Lane Clark & ​​Peacock.

If you'd like to ask Steve a question about pensions, email him at

Steve will do his best to respond to your message in an upcoming column, but he will not be able to reply to everyone or correspond with readers privately. Nothing in his answers constitutes regulated financial advice. Published questions are sometimes edited for brevity or other reasons.

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If Steve can't answer your question, you can also contact MoneyHelper, a government-backed organization that provides free pension assistance to the public. It can be found here and the number is 0800 011 3797.

Steve receives many questions about state pension forecasts and COPE – the Contracted Out Pension Equivalent. If you write to Steve on this topic, here he responds to a typical reader question about COPE and the state pension.