The importance of a Will: Why you don’t want to die intestate

19 April 2023

Making a Will is so important but is often overlooked. Planning what happens to your estate after you die is essential for many reasons.

  • Do you know what will happen to your estate when you die?
  • Do you know who you want to leave your estate to?
  • Do you have particular wishes you’d want to be followed?

A Will makes sure that your estate benefits those you care about, but over half of UK adults don’t have one.

What happens if you die without a Will, and would your family still be cared for?

What are the laws of intestacy?

Dying ‘intestate’ means that you die without having made a Will. Your estate is distributed according to laws of intestacy contained in the Inheritance and Trustees’ Power Act 2014.

Intestacy only allows for ‘family tree’ connections and does not consider how close you may (or may not) be to people, what your wishes might have been had you made a Will, or who may be in the most need of a distribution from your estate.

If you have dependents who are not direct relatives, they may not inherit under intestacy rules. It is important that you make a Will to provide for those you wish to care for in the event of your death.

How is an intestate estate distributed?

The intestacy rules are strict, and do not allow for distribution of an estate to a partner where you are not in a marriage or civil partnership.

  • If you are married or in a civil partnership and you have children, your spouse receives the value of your estate up to £270,000 and keeps your personal possessions.

50% of any value remaining is divided between your children, and your spouse retains an absolute interest in the other remaining 50%.

  • If you are married or in a civil partnership without children, your spouse receives your entire estate and all of your personal possessions.
  • If you aren’t married or in a civil partnership and you have children (including adopted children), your children receive your entire estate when they reach the age of 18. The estate is divided equally between your children if you have more than one.
  • If you aren’t married or in a civil partnership and you have no children, your estate is then distributed to family members in order:
    • Your parents, divided equally between each parent if both are living;
    • If your parents have died, your siblings, divided equally between all brothers and sisters;
    • If you have no surviving parents or siblings, your grandparents;
    • If you have no surviving parents, siblings or grandparents, your aunts and uncles or your cousins if aunts and uncles are deceased.

What happens if there are no living relatives at all?

If you die intestate, unmarried and with no living relatives, your entire estate goes to the Crown and is classed as ‘ownerless goods’ known as ‘bona vacantia’.

Claims can be made against bona vacantia estates for up to 30 years by anyone believing that they are related to the deceased, but evidence must be presented when making a claim.

Protecting your partner, your family & their home

If you’re unmarried but you live with your partner and your children, your partner will not receive any part of your estate if you die intestate.

To ensure your partner receives your estate after you die, you will either need to marry or enter into a civil partnership or write a Will.

Similarly, if you want stepchildren or foster children to receive any part of your estate, you will need to write a Will as they do not inherit under intestacy rules.

Recently married? It’s time to renew your Will

If you’ve married or entered into a civil partnership since you made a Will, your Will is invalid.

Your estate will therefore be distributed in line with the intestacy rules, which risks leaving others you care about – for example, other dependents, carers or step-children – cut off from your estate.

If your Will has been invalidated by your marriage, it’s crucial that you make a new Will that accurately reflects your change in circumstances.

Checking whether a Will has been made

If someone close has died, before following the intestacy rules for distribution of their estate, it’s strongly recommended that a thorough search for a Will is undertaken.

Many people make a Will but don’t tell anyone that it exists, preferring to keep it private or even forgetting it’s been made. Conducting a search is important – you may need to:

  • Search the deceased’s home or even their office, checking locked cabinets, safes or drawers – even storage spaces like an attic or garage.
  • Contact solicitors the deceased has used, for example when buying or selling a property, for a family matter or a dispute. They may have made a Will with the deceased at the time and stored a copy.
  • Contact the deceased’s bank or building society, where some people store their Will confidentially.
  • Carry out a missing Will search with Certainty, who will search databases locally and nationally, as well as legal registers used by solicitors and Will writers.

Making death administration easier for those close to you

A Will certainly makes life easier for those you leave behind after you die.

Not only will you have protected their interests, particularly if you live with a partner but you’re not married, or where you have dependents, but by making some difficult decisions for them – such as setting out your funeral arrangements, stating who is to receive certain belongings and naming your children’s guardian – you’re helping them through what is likely to be a challenging time.

Don’t forget to consider taxation, too. When you die, your estate may be subject to Inheritance Tax or Capital Gains Tax. Inflation and rapid increases in property values mean that more and more estates are now subject to Inheritance Tax.

Through professional estate planning, which includes Will writing, you can minimise the tax bills your loved ones will receive, making sure that your estate benefits the people you care about most.

This article has been prepared by Adroit Legal Services and is not intended to constitute legal advice.

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