Would you like to leave all your worldly goods to Uncle Nigel? That’s what might happen if you don’t create a will. A will is a legally-binding document that stipulates who you want to inherit your estate. Although a will can save an awful lot of suffering for those left behind, only 40% of the population currently has one. If you die without a will, the rules of intestacy determine how your estate is divided. For couples who aren’t married or civilly partnered, this means your blood relatives take precedence over your partner.
Nobody wants to confront their mortality. However, death affects us all eventually. As a financial coach and an aficionado of Victorian novels, I’ve seen what happens when people avoid making plans, hoping everything will somehow work out.
In this post, I’ll explain the implications of intestacy, how to get a will, and why you need to keep it up-to-date
The Implications of Intestacy
Let’s look at a few scenarios of the consequences of dying without making a will
Married (or Civilly Partnered) Couple with Children
Your spouse receives everything up to £250,000. Anything above £250,000 is divided in two: one half goes to your children when they reach the age of 18, and your spouse gets the other half. This might be what you wanted, but could cause difficulties if your spouse is depending on inheriting all your money and property. Would your children relinquish it? If not, this might mean your spouse is obliged to move house while grieving. Is this a conversation you want to have?
Married (or Civilly Partnered) Couple no Children
Your spouse receives everything.
Unmarried with Children
Even if you’re cohabiting, your children get everything once they’re 18. Your surviving partner gets nothing from your estate. If you both owned the property in which you live and are tenants in common on the deeds, your partner would retain only their half. Joint tenants inherit each other’s share of the property, regardless of marital status, but you might be liable for inheritance tax.
Unmarried with no Children
The estate is awarded to your next of kin, in the following order of preference:
- Your parents
- Your siblings
- Uncles and aunts
If you’re an only child with no living parents or grandparents, Uncle Nigel gets the lot. If you have no surviving relatives, it goes to the Crown. Again, co-habiting partners get nothing.
The only way to ensure your money goes to the right people is to make a will.
Perhaps the scenarios above look fine to you. Another consequence of dying intestate is that your closest family member is responsible for sorting out your financial affairs. One of the purposes of creating a will is that you name an executor who manages everything or appoints a solicitor to do so on their behalf. Do you want to lumber your loved ones with all that hassle when they’re grieving?
An extra note for parents
A will is also used to name your children’s legal guardians. If you’re a single parent or you and your partner both die at the same time, the family courts decide who looks after your children. They might place them with a family member you don’t like, or even put them in care. Godparents are not the same as legal guardians.
How to get a will
You could draw up your own will and get someone else to witness it. Although this is better than nothing, it’s unlikely to stand up to any legal challenge. The same is true of the DIY kits you can buy at the local stationery store. We all have different relationships and financial arrangements, so a template is unlikely to accommodate that flexibility.
It’s much better to hire a professional will-writer or a solicitor. A will-writer is usually fine if your circumstances are simple, for example, you and your partner are leaving everything to each other (known as a mirror will) and you have no dependents. Once you introduce other beneficiaries, step-children, or high-value items, it gets much more complicated. In those situations, it’s wise to consult a solicitor. They ensure the wording is legally robust and completely unambiguous.
Which? offers different levels of will-writing, according to your situation. You can also search for verified solicitors on Vouchedfor. A simple will usually costs £150-£250. A more complex document could be nearer £500.
Once you have drawn up your will, make sure it’s up-to-date, especially if you’ve acquired children, an expensive house, or gone through significant life changes. You will need to make a new will if you get married/civilly partnered. Remember, there’s no room for ambiguity in your will.
It’s not something that you’ll benefit from directly, but your loved ones will be so glad that you did it.
Image © Jakub Krechowicz – stock.adobe.com