According to recent research, almost two thirds of adults in the UK don’t have a will. Contrary to popular opinion, wills aren’t only necessary for the elderly or those suffering from ill health – there are lots of circumstances in which you might need to make one.
Who Needs to Make a Will?
A will is a legal document that sets out your posthumous intentions – which explains why so many people avoid making one. It’s not easy to confront the issue of what may happen after you die. However, making a will can save your loved ones a great deal of stress, and ensure that your wishes are carried out in the most tax efficient manner after you pass away: from who will look after your children, if you have them, to what sort of funeral you might like.
People typically make their first will when they are purchasing a property or getting married for the first time – but those aren’t the only times at which a person should make a will. Boldly speaking, everyone should make a will, but you really should consider drawing one up if you care about:
- Who will inherit. If there are particular possessions you’d like to leave to loved ones, or have specific ideas about how your wealth should be divided, you should put this in your will.
- Who will care for your children. If you have children, appointing a guardian is a particularly important measure for you and your co-parent to take – otherwise it will be down to the family courts to decide who cares for them in the event that something happens to you both. If you have the correct clause in place, your chosen guardian will be appointed automatically.
- Who will carry out your wishes. In order to ensure that your wishes are respected after you die, you will need to appoint executors who you trust.
What If I Don’t Have a Will?
If a person dies without a will – or, if they have a will but it’s not deemed legally valid – their estate (property, assets, etc.) will be managed according to the rules of intestacy.
Under the rules of intestacy, only spouses, civil partners and some specific close relatives can inherit. It’s not at all an ideal situation and can be very troubling and upsetting for the deceased person’s loved ones.
Intestacy: Married and civil partners
The rules of intestacy state that married or civil partners can only inherit if they were actually married or in a civil partnership with the deceased person at the time of their death – meaning that former spouses or civil partners will not inherit. However, if the individual was married or in a civil partnership at the time of their death but the couple were informally separated, their surviving partner would still inherit (which might not be in-keeping with the wishes of the deceased person).
Importantly, co-habiting partners who are not married or in a civil partnership will not inherit anything.
If you are married and you die without making a will, what your spouse or civil partner inherits depends on whether there are any children.
If there are surviving children, grandchildren or great grandchildren, and the estate is valued at £250,000 or more, your spouse or civil partner will inherit the first £250,000 of the estate; half of the remaining estate; and all your personal belongings.
If there are no surviving children (or grandchildren, or great grandchildren), your spouse or civil partner will inherit all your personal property and the entirety of your estate.
For many parents, their children’s inheritance is perhaps the most important aspect of their will. But if a parent dies without making a will, their children’s inheritance is determined by their parent’s marital status at the time of death and what the estate is worth.
If an intestate person is survived by a spouse or civil partner, their children will inherit only if the estate is worth more than £250,000. The deceased’s person’s spouse or civil partner receives the first £250,000 and the children inherit half of what is left . If there are two or more children, this inheritance will be divided between them. They will receive no personal items – this all goes to the surviving spouse or civil partner.
If there is no surviving spouse or civil partner, the children of the intestate person will inherit the entire estate, and this will be divided equally between them. This applies even if a parent has children from different relationships and even if their parents were not married or in a civil partnership. Adopted children and step-children who have been formally adopted also have inheritance rights.
It’s important to note, too, that under intestacy rules a child will receive their inheritance at the age of 18. There is no option to delay the age of inheritance under the intestacy rules. Until this time, a trustee(s) will manage the inheritance for them. The exception to this rule is if the child marries or enters into a civil partnership before they turn 18, at which point their inheritance would be released to them.
In Conclusion: Everyone Should Make a Will
As discussed, there are a few specific scenarios in which making a will seems particularly pertinent: a new marriage or the purchase of a new property, for instance.
Dying without a will means that the rules of intestacy apply. Although this means that there is a structure to fall back on, it should not to be thought of as a safety net. Intestacy can be a complex and difficult (not to mention expensive) process for families and loved ones, and does not necessarily reflect the deceased person’s wishes. Our advice would always be to seek professional advice and make a will sooner rather than later, whatever your circumstances.
If you require advice in relation to drafting a will, Bellevue Law’s experienced lawyers are here to help. We pride ourselves on offering sensitive, well-considered advice, whatever the circumstance. Please get in touch today for a friendly discussion about your needs.
Disclaimer: this material is a general overview only, and is not intended to provide legal advice.