I have recently heard a number of scare stories about people assuming that they have made watertight arrangements for their children or their finances in the event of their death, and being completely wrong.

I thought it might be a good opportunity to remind everyone of the law about this, and to encourage everyone to deal with this crucial issue properly.

Q I am not married to my partner, but he has been acting as a dad to my eight-year-old daughter for years. I thought it would be a good idea, to say in a letter that should anything happen to me, he can continue to bring her up. I’ve signed it in the presence of a witness. That should be okay shouldn’t it?

No, not if your daughter’s father is still alive and he has Parental Responsibility (‘PR’). Even if she hasn’t had anything to do with him for years, that will not suffice. Her father will have PR if you were married to him before or after your daughter was born, or if he was named on her birth certificate, or you entered into a formal Parental Responsibility Agreement with him, or he acquired it by court order.

If anything were to happen to you, her dad will still have PR over your partner. It is potentially very persuasive for the courts to see what your wishes and feelings are, but it will not be the only consideration.

Having said that, if your daughter hasn’t had anything to do with her dad for a number of years, the court would consider that and look at other factors, including your daughter’s wishes and feelings.

Obviously if her dad is no longer alive, it might be sufficient. However, it would be much better for you to make a will, formally appointing your partner to be your daughter’s guardian in the event of your death.

I live with my girlfriend. When we got together, she already owned a house, and I moved in with her. I had sold my house, so I paid some money for a new kitchen and bathroom. We’ve now been together for 12 years, and have a child together so we’re common law husband and wife, I believe. We’ve never got around to putting the house into joint names. Is that okay?

Not necessarily. Firstly, there is no such thing in England and Wales as common law marriage. It is a myth that the longer a couple live together, the more rights they acquire...

The best advice I can give you is to make sure that you do regulate the way you hold the house. You need to give some thought to whether you wish to own it jointly as joint tenants, or whether you wish to own defined shares of it as tenants in common.

You should also make a will. I would strongly urge you to see a solicitor to deal with both the will and the ownership of your house and other assets. You also need to sort out what will happen to your child.

Many solicitors will offer fixed prices for will drafting and some hold promotions. Given the importance of your children or the value of your assets, to spend a few hundred pounds or less of making sure your wishes are honoured after your death, should be money well spent..