Putting in place a Will is one of the most important things you can do in life, and it shouldn’t necessarily be linked to age. We should all have Wills – that would be my simple rule of thumb.
The benefit of putting in place a Will is that you’re choosing where your assets go and you’re also choosing who acts as your executor (and it doesn’t have to be your spouse or a grieving family member).
Who inherits if someone dies without making a Will?
This is governed by the Rules of Intestacy and will depend on whom you are survived by. For example, one of the most common situations will be where here there is a husband, wife or civil partner who survives; they will inherit the first £250,000 plus personal possessions (whatever their value). Whatever assets there are in excess of the £250,000 and personal possessions will see the husband, wife or civil partner getting an absolute interest in half of the remainder; and the other half is then divided equally between the surviving children (if a son or daughter has already died, their children will inherit in their place). This only applies to assets in the deceased’s sole name. Jointly owned assets usually pass to the other owner on death.
Long term partners
However, a surviving partner who wasn’t married or in a civil partnership with the deceased has no automatic right to inherit at all. In this case if you and your partner had children, and you die without having made a Will, the estate will be shared equally between the children, meaning your partner of however many years will get nothing. Given that long-term partners are given no standing within the intestacy rules it is essential that if this situation applies that you consider what would happen were you to die without leaving a will. In some cases where one party owns the property in their sole name it can leave the survivor exposed to the deceased’s partner’s children selling the property and leaving them homeless.
Under the rules of intestacy, without being married or in a civil partnership and without having children or further issue, the estate will be shared equally between the surviving parents. However, people of a certain age are not generally blessed with having their parents around. If that’s the case, the estate is shared equally between the deceased’s brothers or sisters (and if a brother or sister has already died, their children inherit in their place). I could talk for hours on where else it could go: living grandparents, aunts and uncles – the list goes on. And if you haven’t got any family at all? It may all revert to the Crown.
It’s your choice…but
What I would stress is that by doing a Will, it’s your choice about where things go and by doing it properly there’s no ambiguity. I’m often asked: ‘Why would I pay you (for example)£400 to do my Will when I can get it done online for free?’ My response is always: I can change a wheel on my car but would I trust it to drive to Scotland with my children in the back? Definitely not!’
Spending a relatively small sum today instructing me to prepare your Will could save your estate thousands of pounds in legal fees down the line if the Will were to be challenged (for example you might want to leave all your money to a dogs’ home, but then the Will could be challenged by certain members of your family and I would at least make that clear to you as a client).
It’s never too late
Having your Will done professionally gives you peace of mind and you don’t have to come to an office to make a Will. Within the various locales of our offices, we’re more than happy to do home visits – I often attend client s at home, or in Care Homes, and we also do emergency Wills in hospital, for people who still have testamentary capacity (the ability to make a Will). These are obviously quite upsetting circumstances and although I know that the person I see is about to die, I can at least give that person reassurance that the assets are going to go exactly where they want. They can then appoint who they want to deal with their estate personally. As solicitors we can be also be appointed as Executors, which will relieve the often burdensome and sometimes complex task from the family. Alternatively named Executors can ask us to assist with the administration of the Estate.
Ashtons Legal has offices in Bury St Edmunds, Cambridge, Felixstowe, Ipswich, Norwich and Thetford. Visit www.ashtonslegal.co.uk