If you die without having made a Will, you are said to die ‘intestate’.  This means that your money, property and personal possessions (after your funeral costs, and any debts and liabilities have been paid) will be divided among your family in accordance with set rules.

This only applies to assets that you own in your sole name (for example, bank accounts, savings and investments).  If you own your home as joint tenants with somebody else (usually a husband or wife), your home will pass to the joint owner by what is known as the ‘right of survivorship’ and won’t pass under the intestacy rules.   

If you have a pension from your employment, you are usually able to ‘nominate’ somebody to receive lump sum death benefits.  This nomination is not binding on the pension trustees, although they will usually abide by your wishes.  These pension benefits will pass outside your residuary estate.

A life policy which has been written in trust will pass directly to your intended beneficiaries.  If you have a life policy which is not written in trust, the insurance company will need your family to obtain a Grant of Letters of Administration (this is the name for a Grant of Probate where there is no Will) before they will hand over the policy proceeds.  This delay is likely to be inconvenient and could be disastrous for your family.

In the event that your family need to obtain a Grant of Letters of Administration in order to access your money, the set rules mean that your husband, wife or civil partner is the first person to benefit.  If you leave children and a spouse, your spouse will be entitled to receive:

(1) all your personal and household items.  This includes all items of daily living such as your bed, wardrobe, sofa, table and chairs, kitchen equipment, any car or computer that you do not use for your business;

(2)  a statutory legacy of £270,000;

(3) if there is anything left over after this, your spouse will receive a half share.

Your children who are living when you die will receive the other half share, which is divided equally between them.  If any of your children have died before you and left children living when you died, those grandchildren will share the amount which your deceased child would have received.

Our Intestacy flow chart shows how your residuary estate will be shared in other circumstances.

Making a Will means that you can choose how your money is passed on and can benefit people who are not beneficiaries under the intestacy rules, such as friends, godchildren, and charities.

Remember that if you are cohabiting, your partner will not receive anything under the intestacy rules.  Instead, he or she may be be able to make a claim against your estate on the basis that the intestacy rules did not make reasonable provision for them.  If your estate has passed to your minor children, you can see that this would cause all sorts of family difficulties. 

The Intestacy Rules will probably not be suitable for your family or make not make enough financial provision for your husband or wife;

  • if the intestacy rules mean your estate would be shared between your husband or wife and your children;
  • if you are not married, as your partner will not have an automatic right to a share of your estate;
  • if there could be disagreements between the family about how to divide your property;
  • if there could be more Inheritance Tax to pay

in addition:

  • your friends, step-children and any organisations or charities you support will not receive anything from your estate;
  • estranged relatives may inherit, even though you no longer have any contact with them; and
  • having a Will makes things easier for the family after you’ve gone

Making a Will is a simple process although the protection your Will provides for your family can be as basic or as sophisticated as you wish.

To avoid leaving problems for your family, it is better to make a Will to be clear about who benefits from what you have.  Having a Will also means that you could choose to delay the age at which your children or grandchildren received anything.  Under the intestacy rules, a child will be entitled to their inheritance when they reach the age of 18.  Many people are not happy with their children or grandchildren receiving large sums of money at this age and prefer to make them wait until they are 21 or 25.

It is not difficult, time consuming or expensive to make a Will, so there’s no reason to delay.

If you have any questions about what happens if you don’t have a Will, please get in touch and we’ll be pleased to help.

Email: christine@winterbornelegal.co.uk or call: 01308 424808 or 07860 772274