I haven’t got a Will – what happens when I die?
It is estimated that in the UK only one in three adults have a valid will, and if you die without one, you are described as “intestate”. You are then subject to a set of statutory rules governing how your property will be distributed and whilst these are due for a little updating later this year, they were largely written in 1925 when the structure of family life was usually a little less complicated than it is today.
What’s included in my “estate” then?
It is easier to say what is excluded. Broadly speaking, any property you own jointly with someone else such as a joint bank account or a house owned as joint tenants will pass directly to your co-owner when you die. It does not fall under either your will or intestacy and passes as a direct consequence of your death. Similarly any assets that were nominated to someone else when you bought into them, such as a life insurance policy or a pension lump sum can go straight to your intended beneficiary. Anything else will usually form part of your estate and be dealt with under the Intestacy Rules.
But it’ll all go to my husband or wife?
No. Under the new rules coming into effect in 2014, a surviving spouse has a legacy of the first £250,000 of your estate and half the rest with the remainder being divided equally between your children which can cause serious complications, particularly where there is a second marriage and a step family.
We’re not actually married…..
A co-habitee has no rights under the intestacy rules but does have rights as a “dependant” and can bring a claim against the estate. This can result in an unmarried parent having to sue their own minor children to retain the family home if it was in the deceased's sole name.
What about someone with no spouse or children?
The Intestacy Rules set out a formula for who can benefit. If you are unmarried and childless, your parents are next in line, or if they have already died then your brothers and sisters and then their children and grandchildren. If there is no one in any of these categories then it goes to your uncles and aunts and their descendants.
I really have no family – what happens then?
If there is no one living who is a direct biological or adoptive descendant of your grandparents then the estate will ultimately pass to the Crown as “Bona Vacantia”or ownerless property. Although there are comparatively few cases that go all the way down this route, it gains the Treasury and average of £60 million every year!
So I need a Will then?
Not only does a Will have the obvious advantage of ensuring your assets end up where you want them to, it is crucial in protecting unmarried partners, appointing guardians for children and determining who should administer your estate by appointing Executors. Even if you have no close relations or friends you wish to benefit, you may well prefer to name your favourite charity as a beneficiary rather than see everything go to the Government!
If you would like to discuss any of the above with us please contact Liz Heron or ask at any of our offices.