What making a Will does for you
If you don’t make a Will, you cannot control who will inherit your property after your death. Should you die without making a Will, your property will be distributed according to intestacy law. And this distribution may not match your personal wishes. By making a Will you can determine precisely who will inherit your property and let your loved ones know that you have considered their needs.
Equally important, you can determine who will handle your affairs after your death and who will act as guardian for any minor children you have if they are left without a surviving parent. You can also use your Will to express your preferences for burial or cremation and for donating organs or your entire body for medical purposes. In addition, making a Will gives you the opportunity of reducing your Inheritance Tax liability. This is particularly important if you have substantial assets.
What happens if you have not made a Will: Intestacy Explained?
…you die without making a Will, or if your Will is not legally valid, you die ‘intestate’. This means that the management of your affairs is then placed in the hands of administrators who are appointed by the court and who are likely to be close members of your family. The administrators must distribute your estate according to the rules of intestacy. There is no opportunity for them to try and ‘guess’ your wishes.
The rules of intestacy are complex, but, broadly speaking, the bulk of your estate will go to your spouse (or registered civil partner) or, if none, to your children (whether or not they are adults) and, if none, to other specified blood relatives.
The effect of the rules depends partly on whether you have children and your marital status. If you’re married with no children, your surviving spouse/civil partner will inherit everything.]
But if you’re married with children, when you die without a Will less than you expect may go to your spouse. Your surviving spouse will receive £250,000, plus your personal belongings, and then half of the estate automatically. Your children will then inherit the remaining half share of the estate(or on trust until they reach the age of 18).
The rules for spouses set out here are the same as the rules for those gay couples who register as civil partners under the Civil Partnerships Act 2004.
But if you’re not married and living together the intestacy laws do not recognise a common law husband or wife. Cohabitation does not have the same ‘rights’ as marriage. So it’s particularly important to make a Will if you’re not married to your partner. Under the law of intestacy, your unmarried partner has no automatic right to any part of your estate and so they will have to try and establish a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 which can be costly, time consuming and far from a guaranteed success.
Find out more about cohabitation and the intestacy laws here.
It’s also possible to die partially intestate. This occurs if you fail to deal with all of your property in your Will or if someone who was due to inherit in your Will dies before you or if you divorce and your ex-spouse’s legacy becomes invalid as a result. It’s therefore important to keep your Will up to date.
Find out more about divorce and making a Will here.
When you should make a Will again
Once you’ve written your Will, don’t just forget about it. Changes to your circumstances (e.g. marriage, divorce, having a child or moving house) can make parts of the Will invalid or unfair and open to a successful claim under the Inheritance Act. You should therefore review your Will regularly to reflect any major life changes, ideally every year.
Find out more about life events that can affect how you make a Will here.