What happens if I die without making a Will?
by Emily Littlehales

I really enjoy talking to people about Wills.

To me; they represent a clever tool which can achieve many planning goals and they are full of surprises. But, unsurprisingly, most people don’t like to talk about it.

According to Which? 54% of UK adults don’t have Wills. £8million pounds worth of assets were inherited by the Crown last year.

Every day I speak to clients who tell me that they the need to make a Will keeps getting shelved, it’s something they know they must do but have never got around to… you may be able to resonate with these clients.

What happens if you die, without having got around to ticking ‘Make a Will’ off that to do list?

For a start, in legal terms, you die ‘intestate’. This literally translates as someone who has died without leaving a Will. This triggers our intestacy rules, which are a set of rules which kick in when someone dies without having a Will.

Rather than your Wills setting out who will inherit from you, the intestacy rules will dictate who inherits from you. This is where it can start to feel a bit scary. You will not be in control of who gets your money, your investments or your property. The law choses for you. The ability to make a Will is the mechanism that puts you back in control, and it really isn’t all that difficult a task to do.

The .Gov website (LINK) has a handy tool to help you, and also me, work out who gets what in the situation where there is no Will. Who inherits depends on what relations you have around you when you die. No credits are given to those relations who are close to you, or have had the most to do with you during your lifetime, it is literally just in an order set out by the law.

If this isn’t enough to put you off dying without a Will, what about the added time and expense it will take for your family to deal with your affairs? Solicitors tend to charge more for administering an estate where there is no Will. This is because it is more time consuming and complicated.

It can also make basic tasks difficult for the family. Not having an Executor named properly in the Will could mean that dealing with assets is difficult, this is particularly relevant where there are several people in the ‘next of kin’ category, as it could mean lots of signatures, delay and effort. A Will just makes life easier.

I mentioned above that Wills are really clever, they help clients who want to protect their estate as much as possible. A few of you may have heard people talking about asset protection. You may have heard people talking about trusts. Planning for care fees, inheritance tax etc. A Will is the starting point to making sure your estate is efficient on all levels. It is not just about making sure the right people benefit from you possessions, money and property, but good advice will help you make sure you maximise what they receive too. If you don’t make a Will, your estate could end up paying too much inheritance tax. Good advice will usually come in the form of a solicitor or other Will writing expert.

We have spoken about the added time, cost, uncertainty for your family and lost planning opportunities but what about some more specific scenarios which may apply to you, which may catch you out if you don’t have a Will. If you are still gripped by this article, lets have a look at these scenarios next…

  • If you die with no children, but have both parents alive, one of whom you have not seen in several years, they would both inherit equally. This would be the result of the intestacy rules.
  • If you are living with a partner, they do not get any recognition under the law. Even if they have contributed jointly to the purchase of your home together, they could face the possibility that your family members may insist on the sale of that home, or that your partner buys out their inheritance in some other way.
  • If you are cohabiting with someone, making sure you are both protected or that you have planned and discussed what would happen is really important. This means making Wills.
  • Married couples or those in a civil partnership are better protected. The law does recognise that relationship. This is a good thing, but what if you don’t want the all or at least, the majority of your estate to go to your spouse? If you have children do you want them to inherit too? By not making a Will here, you are missing out on information and vital planning opportunities. You don’t know what you don’t know…

If you have children, are you happy for them to inherit at 18? If you are not married and have children, then they would inherit at 18 which is can be quite young to receive a substantial amount of money. Most of the clients I speak to like to raise the age to 21 or 25.

On the subject of children, if you have children from other relationships, making a Will makes sure that their inheritance is safe, but also, if you are living with a partner too, that you are not also leaving them in a situation of turmoil and uncertainty. As above, they are not recognised in our legal system and would be completely reliant on making a claim against your estate. This is not a good result for anyone.

For some people, they may not have close relations. This could mean their estate is inherited by people they don’t know or have never met. I have seen this happen. To go a step further, they may have no relatives at all, in which case their estate will be adding to the above £8m inheritance received by the Crown last year. It can be difficult to make decisions about who you would want to inherit where you don’t have close family and this can be why some people don’t get around to making a Will. However, if you want to make sure that friends/charities inherit over the Crown you must make a Will.

Dying without a Will means that you are loosing out on the opportunity to appoint key people to look after matters for your family. For example, some couples will be motivated to make a Will simply because they want to make sure they have appointed guardians for their children. A properly appointed guardian in your Will not only means that there is some certainty about who you want to take care of your children, which is really helpful, but it also gives them the ability to make a court application in the family court. Grandparents find it easier to make such applications, but not all couples want grandparents to be guardians.

The other key appointment in a Will is an Executor. This is the person who administers your estate for you. By that, I mean they make your Probate application, gather in and deal with your assets, and make sure it is distributed in accordance with your Will. It is a responsible roll and one which demands a great deal of trust. A Will is your opportunity to make sure you name that person, otherwise you loose control over who will see to the job. This can be really tricky for families where not everyone gets on, or there are family politics or dynamics where the wrong people in control or working together would cause chaos.

Not only do Executors administer the estate, but they also look after any money for any young beneficiaries in your Will. Making sure that you take the opportunity of making a Will makes sure that you appoint the people you trust to do the job.

I draft Wills for clients from Simple Wills, to those more complex Wills with Trusts to help meet individual planning needs. The starting point is the initial consultation which is on a no obligation basis. We will work out what your objectives are and what your Will needs to achieve for you.

If any of the above has resonated with you, or if you would like to know more please contact me for your initial no obligation meeting.

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