Two-thirds of adults in England and Wales die each year without having made a valid Will. Some people simply do not get around to making one; others do not realise that significant events in life, for example marriage, can revoke a previously made Will.
If you have not made a Will, it is advisable to do so to ensure that your money and possessions pass to those you wish to receive them.
For those that die without leaving a valid Will, are said to die ‘intestate’ and their estates are governed by the ‘intestacy rules’. The intestacy rules determine the distribution of a deceased’s estate.
Married without children
The surviving spouse receives everything in the estate.
Under the intestacy rules, a spouse is somebody who was married to the deceased at the time of their death. The same rules apply to civil partners of the deceased. A divorced spouse is excluded (although spouses who are informally separated can inherit under the rules).
Married with children
The surviving spouse receives the first £270,000 and half of the remainder of the estate. The children will then receive the remaining half of the estate.
A common myth is that unmarried cohabiting couples have the same, or at least similar rights as married couples when one of them dies. This is far from the case. Unless cohabiting couples have Wills in place, they actually have very limited succession rights to each other’s estates.
Without a Will, the surviving partner will not be entitled to inherit anything from the estate, regardless of how long they have lived together as a couple.
Where a cohabiting couple have children, either together or the deceased has a child, the intestacy rules will pass the estate to that child or children.
Who can inherit?
If there is no surviving spouse, the estate passes according to the following list:
What can you do?
Making a Will is the only way to ensure that your wishes are carried out upon your death. As explained above, if you have not made a valid Will, your property will pass according to the rules of intestacy which may not be what you would wish to happen.
A Will lets your loved ones know your exact intentions of what you wanted to happen to your estate. Knowing that your estate has been organised before your death, will also help to give you and your loved one’s peace of mind.