How the law decides what happens to your estate
If you die without making a will (i.e. intestate), the implications for the loved ones you leave behind may come as a shock.
Perhaps you think you’re too young to make a will or that you don’t have anything of value to leave. Or maybe you’re worried that making a will could be very expensive. You aren’t alone. 70% of the UK population aged 16-54 doesn’t have a will – and even amongst the over 55s, the figure stands at 37%.
But the reasons to make a will are more than just financial.
Intestacy rules in the UK
If you don’t have a will, the law decides what happens to your estate when you die. There are many misconceptions around the intestacy rules and they frequently don’t take into account the complexities of modern family life. Without a will, your estate may, for example, go to an estranged family member or your children may inherit nothing. The only way to be certain that your wishes are met is to make a will.
Here are some of the possible outcomes of not making a will.
The court will appoint a guardian for your children
If you have children under the age of 18, and both parents die, a guardian will look after them. If you haven’t specified who you want to be the guardian, the Court will appoint one. This is usually a close family member, but it may not be the person you would have wanted to take on this vital role.
Non-married partners will inherit nothing
There’s a widespread belief that so-called ‘common law’ spouses have equal rights with married partners. However, the law does not recognise this status. Unmarried partners will inherit nothing unless it’s specified in a will, no matter how long you have been together. If you and your partner own a property together, it’s particularly important to make a will so the one who is left behind doesn’t find themselves homeless.
Your children from a previous marriage may inherit nothing
An estimated 1 in 3 families in the UK are now step-families. If you have children from a previous marriage or relationship, they may not inherit your estate when you die. Without a will, your estate (up to £250,000) passes automatically to your existing spouse. He or she will receive half of anything remaining with the rest going to your children (not step-children). However, on your spouse’s death, his/her estate will go to their own children, so your children could be left out.
A large Inheritance Tax bill to pay
There is no inheritance tax (IHT) to pay on estates valued at less than £325,000. Above this, there may be exemptions, particularly if you leave your main residence to a direct descendant. However, the IHT rules are complex and without clear guidance you could find that your family is left with a large tax bill to pay from your estate.
Family disputes over your estate
This is perhaps the most important reason to make a will. Countless families have found themselves in disputes over an estate when it wasn’t clear what the deceased wished to happen. Some of those have even ended up in court at great financial and emotional cost. Making a will saves your loved ones a great deal of stress and anxiety at an already difficult time.
Making a will may seem daunting, but it’s not complicated and it need not be expensive. Once you set out your wishes, you’ll have peace of mind that your estate will be passed on in the way you want it to be done.
At PM Law, we can help you through the process and answer any questions. Contact us on the form below – or if you’re ready to make a start, complete the will questionnaire here. If you’d like to talk it through with someone, call us on 0114 249 6926.