Thousands of people across the United Kingdom die every year without making a Will or without a valid Will. If you die without a valid Will (intestate), your wishes as to who should inherit your estate will not be carried out, and your loved ones will have the additional emotional and financial stress of probate or a court case, a what is an already difficult time for families. Many put writing a Will off because they don’t believe they don't have anything to leave, or they believe their money will automatically go to their partner or children. Intestacy in England and Wales is a particular problem for unmarried couples. Many people believe that because they are in a long-term relationship, this makes them married under the common law. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Sarah Mungall was 58 when she died from cancer, after a two-year illness. Sarah did not have any children, and was not married, but had been living with her long-term partner, James for seven years. Despite her diagnosis, she failed to make a Will, perhaps making the wrong assumption that her live-in partner would automatically inherit her estate. According to the intestacy laws of England and Wales, and because she wasn't married and had no children, her entire estate of £203,000 went to her mother, leaving her partner with nothing.
Intestacy Rules in England & Wales
Partners will only inherit if they were married or in a civil partnership at the time of death; otherwise, the estate goes to the closest relatives according to the government rules. Children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are first in line; if there are none, parents are next. Sometimes a distant cousin unknown to the deceased will inherit, and if there are no surviving relatives, the estate goes to the Crown.
To ensure that your estate is going to your loved ones, it is crucial you write a Will, and to ensure it is written according to validity rules, or it will be disregarded under the law. Even if you intend to leave your estate to the same person who would receive it under the intestacy rules, it's still worth making a will, because without a Will in place, your loved ones will have to go through an expensive and time-consuming probate process.
The Benefits of Making a Will
Making a Will gives you control over how your estate will be distributed after you pass away. There are many ways in which you can provide for your loved ones through a Will, and ensure that those you care about most have a share in your estate. You can also leave gifts to specific beneficiaries, as well as donations to charitable causes. It also gives you the peace of mind in knowing that your affairs are in order, and your loved ones will be provided for after your death, according to your wishes. There is also often undue stress on family members over disagreements about how to distribute the deceased's possessions. To reduce the risk of family heirlooms being sold on so that they are equally distributed, a Will can specify who gets what, eliminating any confusion or uncertainties.
Having a Will can also minimise any Inheritance Tax liability. With careful planning, you can arrange a Will in such a way that inheritance tax outgoings are minimised or even diminished. If you have young children, it is even more important to have a Will in place. If you should die before they reach maturity, failure to appoint a guardian for your children will mean that the court will have to appoint one. The court does not always get it right in these cases, so it is a worthwhile consideration, and it will give you peace of mind that your family will be looked after if anything should happen.
Another benefit to having a Will in place is that you can choose who your executor(s) will be. This is the person appointed to administer and distribute your estate after your death. In cases where there is no Will in place, the Court will appoint an Executor - normally a beneficiary and close family member or friend. Appointing an executor on your Will means you can choose someone you know to be trustworthy and honest (because they will be dealing with your entire estate) as well as someone who is organised (as they will be required to keep accurate accounts of your estate), giving you peace of mind that your affairs will be dealt with according to your wishes.
Our friendly advisers would be more than happy to speak with you about any aspects of creating a Will. Will writing and financial planning is our expertise, and we can guide you through the various options available to you to suit your own specific needs.