What Happens to Your Estate When You Die Without Making a Will

30th April 2015

The much-loved actor, Rik Mayall died without a Will. But, he's not alone.

Only three in ten people in the UK have a Will. The reason for this shocking statistic is partly due to the fear of facing up to our own mortality or because many people believe that making a Will also means ‘tempting fate’. Another reason is that it might be complicated or expensive to do.

The truth is that with the right advice, having a Will written for you need not be a long, complicated process. Doing it means that you have peace of mind knowing that your family will be provided for when you die and that your estate is handled according to your wishes.

Because Rik Mayall died ‘intestate’ (without leaving a Will), it means that his estate faces up to £1.2 million in inheritance tax, which could have been avoided with the right planning. If you die without leaving a Will your estate (your assets less your liabilities at death) will be divided between your relatives as follows:

If you are married or in a civil partnership with no children

Before October 2014, up to £450,000 of your estate would go to your spouse or civil partner, while assets above £450,000 were split between your spouse, siblings and parents of the deceased. After October 2014, all of your estate goes to your spouse or civil partner.

If you are married or in a civil relationship with children

Before October 2014, if you were married or in a civil partnership and you had children, your estate up to the value of £250,000 would go to your spouse or civil partner. Assets above that were split equally (50/50) between your spouse and your children, however, your spouse or civil partner would only receive a ‘life interest’ from this 50% share – which means they are entitled to the income from this share for their lifetime but they cannot touch the capital.

After October 2014, the situation remained the same, except now, the ‘life interest’ has been removed so your spouse or civil partner is entitled to receive the capital of the 50/50 split above the £250,000 level - without restriction.

If you are co-habiting or have an unmarried long term partner

Co-habitees and long term partners are not protected under the laws of intestacy. The law does not recognise the concept of a ‘common law spouse’.

Therefore, if you are an unmarried couple and one of you passes away without a Will, your partner will not be automatically entitled to receive anything from your estate under intestacy. If you had children the estate will go to your children. If there are no children, then the estate could go to the parents, siblings or other relatives.

It is important to note that jointly held assets may not pass under the intestacy rules but instead pass to the surviving joint owner. This is the case where, say, you jointly own a house as ‘joint tenants’. If however you want your share of the house to pass under your will or in accordance with the intestacy rules then it needs to be held as ‘tenants-in-common’. Our will writing professionals are able to advise you on this and also change the way you own the property (if required).

It’s so important that you take the right advice to understand your situation and how it will apply to your circumstances. Coping with the death of a loved one is challenging enough without having to deal with the difficulties and delays of the person dying intestate. Writing your will does not have to be a complicated process so, to avoid your loved ones having to go through intestacy, it’s always best to get a professionally drafted will in place.


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