Guide to intestacy rules

Making a Will may be something you decide to put off later in life and can bring up uncomfortable conversations you wish to avoid, however, consider the situation where the unimaginable happens and your loved ones are not protected. The benefits of having this security in place may make you want to reconsider.

A recent IRN Wills and Probate Research Report has found only 4 in 10 UK adults have a Will despite owning a property. The main reason for those choosing not to make a Will is that they don’t think they have anything of value to pass on.

Dying without a Will can present many challenges to families as the government laid out intestacy rules will come into effect and don’t often reflect the wishes of the person. Cases where married and civil partners inherit cutting out children and other intended beneficiaries are all too common.

What is intestacy?

If a person has passed away without making a Will, or their Will is invalid, they have died ‘intestate.’ Even if you have a Will in place this can be invalid if:

  • The person was not well enough or lacked the mental ability, to make a Will
  • The Will does not deal with all the person’s assets
  • The Will was not signed or witnessed in accordance with the law

Without a Will, the person’s assets are then left to be distributed in accordance with the intestacy rules.

How do the intestacy rules work in the UK?

The rules apply in England and Wales and they list a rigid order of who should benefit from the estate of an intestate person. This order is as follows:

  • Spouse or civil partner (this does not include ex-spouses, people living together or unmarried partners )
  • Children/grandchildren (this means natural and adopted but not step-children/grandchildren)
  • Parents (not including step-parents)
  • Brothers and sisters (to include natural and not step-brothers/sisters)
  • Grandparents
  • Uncles and aunts

Upon death, the highest existing and surviving relative will take priority, for example, if the deceased has a surviving spouse or civil partner all of the estate will be passed to them unless the value of the estate exceeds £250,000. A common misconception is that long-term partners are entitled to receive something whereas in reality, long-term partners/common-law partners receive nothing, regardless of how long the couple have been together

If the estate is worth more than this and the deceased had children, the spouse or civil partner will keep all assets up to £250,000 as well as any of their possessions. Of the remaining value of the estate, the spouse or civil partner will be entitled to receive a benefit in half of the remaining estate but not own it outright. The rest will be split between the deceased’s children, or their grandchildren if the children have already died.

If there is no surviving spouse, civil partner or children the whole of the estate will go to the next highest relative in order of importance. If the deceased had none of the surviving relatives on this list (including children of any group such as nieces and nephews or cousins) then their estate will go to the Crown.

This order also determines who will act as an administrator for the estate. This person is responsible for sharing out the estate and taking care of inheritance tax and any related issues.

“Long-term partners receive nothing, regardless of how long the couples have been together.”

The risks of dying without a Will

The main pitfalls of dying without a Will in place are that your estate is distributed in ways you may never have intended and that your loved ones, close relatives and friends don’t receive any benefit as you may have hoped.

This can lead to unnecessary disputes between family members and friends, causing conflict and division at an emotional and vulnerable time which may be the opposite of what was planned.

Other aspects to consider are inheritance tax, business succession and what should be done with the family home which can lead to a serious knock-on effect on these factors.

The clear and simplest way to avoid this happening is to take professional legal advice and have an expertly drafted Will in place. This will ensure that your friends, family and loved ones benefit exactly as you want them to after you are gone and gives you the peace of mind and security in knowing that your estate, assets and financial securities are protected and passed onto the right people.

How to prepare for the unexpected

Thinking of making a Will? Get in touch with our Private Client team who can tailor a range of suitable options to your needs and specifications. We pride ourselves on using clear, simple, plain English to make your Will easy to understand and read for your loved ones.

We know this is an emotional time for many who may be thinking about how to go ahead and make these important life decisions and we can ensure that our dedicated team are sensitive to these needs and can advise you on how to make the best Will for your circumstances.

Speak to our specialist team today, email or call 01473 229200.

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