Dying without a Will - So What?
Without a Will, your wishes are unrecorded and you leave it up to chance. This could leave your estate going to the wrong people, a poor choice of guardians for your children or trigger expensive disputes about how your legacy should be distributed.
Although it may seem like something you can put off when you’re already busy, but writing your Will and proper estate planning are some of the most important things you can do to provide for those you leave behind.
1. The Intestacy Rules
If you die without a valid Will, your estate will be distributed according to the Intestacy Rules. These rules can leave people you would like to have inherited without any provision.
Who inherits under these Rules depends on what family you leave behind, where you lived and the value of your estate. The Intestacy Rules that apply in England and Wales are shown below.
As you might note from the image above, married and civil partners are in pole position to inherit under the Intestacy Rules. However, if you have divorced or are co-habiting, you cannot inherit under these rules. The myth of common law spouses is just that: a myth.
1. What about the kids?
If you have children or dependants, it’s even more important that you make a valid Will early and plan for their future. Perhaps most importantly, your Will should appoint guardians to look after your children should their parents (strictly those with parental responsibility) die. If you do not specify guardians in a valid Will, the court will decide who is given responsibility for bringing up your minor children.
Step-children and foster children may be no different to your own natural children from your perspective, but they are excluded from inheriting under these the Intestacy Rules. Although they may be able to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, this will incur significant cost and requires a long and stressful court process. The best way to provide for them is to name them as beneficiaries in your Will.
1. Jointly-owned property?
Any jointly-owned property will go to the surviving joint-owner upon death of the deceased joint-owner. This is the typical situation for couples owning a house together. If you own your home as joint tenants with your partner, they would automatically inherit your share of the property on your death. Therefore, it would NOT be distributed under the Intestacy Rules.
It is possible to switch ownership to tenants in common. Property owned as tenants in common will be distributed according to the Will, or if no valid Will exists, according to the Intestacy Rules as above.
1. Wasting your legacy
Without a Will and proper estate planning, there is increased risk that some or all of your estate will be lost to your preferred beneficiaries. You might pay more Inheritance Tax (IHT) than is necessary, or allow “sideways disinheritance” to leach your estate away from your children after you have passed on.
Worse still, left without a clear indication of your wishes your family might fall into dispute, fracturing relationships and eating away your legacy in legal fees.
So, whilst it might seem like a job for another day, few of us can see when we'll need a Will, but all of us will need it one day