Death management, especially writing a will, is a task that people often put off – at Life Ledger, it’s something that we see a lot. After all, we’re still young, there’s no need to get a will organised today. Right?
But, people often don’t realise that if you don’t make a will, your friends, many of your family members and, sometimes, even your partner are not automatically entitled to your assets.
Without a will, your assets will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy, regardless of how long you have known them or how much you love them.
What will happen if I die without a will?
Dying without a will is known as dying intestate, which comes from the Latin word for ‘without testament’.
If an individual dies intestate, then their assets will be distributed according to a fixed legal process. This law is known as the rules of intestacy. These rules outline a strict process, which must be followed when distributing the assets.
These rules only come into play if an individual dies without creating a will, or if they have made a will, but it is not deemed legally valid. In the latter instance, the rules of intestacy will be followed, even if they contradict the wishes communicated in the invalid will.
The rules of intestacy provide a clear process to determine who will get what. Although these rules are designed to be as fair as possible, they are by their nature a ‘one size fits all’ solution and very few friends or family members are given the opportunity to inherit anything if their loved one dies intestate.
What are the current UK rules of intestacy?
The rules of intestacy are outlined in the Inheritance and Trustees’ Power Act (2014). This legislation is enforced across England and Wales, there are slight differences in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The rules are as follows:
If the deceased is in a legal partnership (either married or in a civil partnership), then their partner will inherit all of the deceased’s assets and property, up to the value of £270,000. The partner will also receive all the deceased’s personal possessions.
If the deceased’s estate is worth over £270,000, then the remainder will be divided in half. Half will go to the deceased’s partner (as they are given an ‘absolute interest’ over this additional half). Then, the rest will be given to the deceased’s child/children. If the children of the deceased have passed away, then their children (the deceased’s grandchildren) will share this inheritance.
If the deceased was unmarried, then the entire estate will be split equally between their children. And, as above, if the children of the deceased have passed away, then the entirety of the estate will be distributed amongst the grandchildren (but the inheritance will only be awarded to them once they have turned 18). Equally, if the deceased has no children, then their partner will inherit everything.
And, if the deceased has no partner or children, then the estate will be distributed in full to their next surviving relative, following the order of parents, full siblings, half-siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, the children of your aunts and uncles, half-uncles and half-aunts, then the children of your half-aunts and half-uncles.
If the deceased has no surviving relatives, their entire assets will be given to the crown.
Who will inherit through the laws of intestacy, and who will not?
The primary beneficiary of the laws of intestacy is the deceased’s partner. They receive, by far, the greatest share of the deceased’s assets.
If the deceased’s assets are valued at less than £270,000, their partner will inherit everything. If valued at a higher amount, the partner will inherit the first £270,000, plus half of the remaining value.
If the deceased’s estate is worth over £270,000, then their children also stand to receive some inheritance. However, this is a much smaller proportion than that of the partner.
Who does not stand to inherit through the laws of intestacy?
An unmarried partner – a partner that was not married or in a civil partnership to the deceased – even if they were living together or have children together – have no right to inherit through intestacy laws.
Friends – if someone dies without a will, only their biological family members will have the right to inherit assets.
Other family members – as mentioned above, if the deceased is married or has children, then other family members will not inherit anything. And if the deceased is unmarried and without children, the inheritance rights will follow a very strict order (rather than the assets being distributed to multiple family members).
Grandchildren and great grandchildren – even though they are directly related to the deceased, grandchildren and great grandchildren will only receive an inheritance if their parents have previously passed away.
Relatives by marriage – step-children and in-laws, cannot inherit under intestacy.
Divorced partners – partners only have a right to inherit if they were in a legally-binding relationship at the time of death.
Pets – pets won’t automatically receive anything, and the deceased’s surviving relatives have no obligation to house or care for them.
How does the process differ in Scotland and Northern Ireland?
In Scotland, the spouse or civil partner gets the house up to a value of £473,000. If the house is worth more than this, they’ll receive a lump sum of £473,000, and they may have to sell the property.
They will also receive furniture and moveable household goods to the value of £29,000, with up to £50,000 in cash, and a further third of the rest of the estate. The final two-thirds are split between the deceased’s children.
In Northern Ireland, the spouse or civil partner will keep all the deceased’s assets (including property) up to £250,000 and all their personal possessions, whatever their value.
Furthermore, they get one third of the remaining estate, with the final two-thirds being split between the children.
To put it simply, by creating a will, you can be sure that your wishes will be followed, in full.
Although money certainly isn’t everything, there’s a lot of comfort to be gained in knowing that, when you are gone, you will have provided for your loved ones. Inheritance is no small sum, and it can go a long way towards ensuring the future security and stability of your loved ones.
By creating a will, you can leave your assets to your loved ones, in the proportion that would make you the happiest.
It is also imperative to note that if you want to support a partner who you are not married to or in a legal partnership with, a will is absolutely essential. Without a will in place, they will not receive any of your assets.
What’s more, by writing a will, you will get far more flexibility over who receives a share of this inheritance. Rather than limiting this to just your partner and children, you can leave money to other beloved friends and family members.
You could also leave money to other beneficiaries, such as any pets that you may have, or a carer that you want to thank for the support they have given to you in your later years.
And, beyond simply money and property, a will enables you to distribute your possessions amongst your loved ones. This is a wonderful way to leave meaningful presents to special people in your life, or to ensure that any treasured items are protected after you are gone.
If you have any further questions, or would like some specialist guidance about your specific circumstances, you can get in touch with Cruse Bereavement Support service, or visit the GOV.UK wills advice page.
And remember, you can always change your will at any time, should your circumstances change.