It is estimated that only three in 10 people in the UK have a Will. Many simply don’t write a Will at all, in spite of this being an age of increasingly complex financial affairs and particularly in the light of tricky family dynamics, often involving stepchildren, half-siblings and the complications that can arise from parents not being married to each other. There is no obvious reason why people don’t make Wills, though many may feel that they simply don’t have enough assets to worry about, but the fact is that as soon as you have a life-changing event, such as buying a house, becoming a parent, or getting together with a significant other, that is the point you really should consider making a Will.
Should you die without a Will in place you are said to be intestate, and there are rules that dictate how your estate is to be distributed. The rules on intestacy changed on 1 October 2014. For deaths on or after this date, all intestate estates are subject to the revised rules as introduced by the Inheritance and Trustees’ Powers Act 2014 (ITPA 2014).
The new rules are simpler but, as with any changes, there are some losers. Firstly, the children of wealthy families where a parent dies intestate will benefit less under the new rules than before. Under the revised rules, spouses are the main beneficiaries of an intestate’s estate. Secondly, where there are no children, the other relatives of the intestate individual, for example siblings, parents and cousins, will no longer automatically inherit part of their estate.
When this change to the law was first mooted, it was envisaged that the reforms would make significant changes to the law relating to cohabitees. This has not happened and the notion of a common law spouse does not exist, regardless of how long the couple have been living together. The laws of intestacy do not give any rights for unmarried couples who are living together to inherit their partner’s estate on death. In this scenario, the cohabitees are treated as single individuals and the deceased’s estate passes to blood relatives, with any children being first in line. The partner receives nothing.
As a consequence, the surviving partner may be forced to bring a claim against the estate by using the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 legislation. This can be avoided if the partners have Wills drafted. Families with stepchildren or children from more than one relationship cannot rely on the intestacy rules to achieve their wishes and need to prepare Wills to ensure these are properly carried out.
No-one knows when they are going to die. What we all know is that we most definitely will. If you really must, you can buy a Will drafting kit in the High Street or on the internet, but there is no substitute for sitting down with a solicitor, when you can ask questions and take proper advice. For a relatively modest sum of money, you can rest assured that your loved ones will be properly provided for when you die.
This article was originally posted on The Wanstead Village Directory.