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Why you should have a will: Who will inherit and how much?

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Jan Wright, Laura Brereton and Becci Haffner, from Harrison Drury’s private client team, outline the new Intestacy Rules, which came into effect in February 2020, and explain the consequences for not having a valid will and simply assuming a spouse or civil partner will inherit your estate.

Are you married or in a civil partnership, with children?
If yes, who inherits if you die without a will?

You may be thinking of making a will but wonder if there is any point as your spouse/civil partner will inherit everything anyway which is what you want. Unfortunately, this may not be the case. When a person dies with no valid will, they die ‘intestate’. The Intestacy Rules then decide who inherits and how much. The survivor will only receive a certain amount and the rest will be divided between the survivor and the children.

Under the new Intestacy Rules, which came into effect on February 6, 2020, the surviving spouse/civil partner will keep all the assets, including property, up to £270,000 (this was previously £250,000).

They will also keep all the personal possessions no matter their value. The remainder is then shared so that the survivor receives half and the other half is divided equally between the surviving children. The spouse/civil partner must survive the deceased by 28 days to inherit.

You may think this is not so bad as it would mean your spouse/civil partner will receive a large portion of your estate. Think about this: if your property is in your own name and is worth over £270,000, the children are entitled to 50 per cent of anything over that amount. Therefore, they are within their rights to force the sale of the family home. This can be very distressing for the family left behind.

In addition, if the Intestacy Rules mean that your surviving spouse/civil partner is disadvantaged then they may bring a claim for greater provision from your estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 – (the ‘Inheritance Act’). No-one would deliberately invite the prospect of expensive and divisive litigation upon their estate but that is exactly what could happen.

Is this really what you want? Do you want to leave your estate to chance, to be decided by somebody else? If the answer is ‘no’, now is the time to make a will so that your wishes can be met. At the very least perhaps you should check the ownership of your property to make sure it is owned as you think – and then make a will so your wishes are clear.

What happens if you are co-habiting but are not married or in a civil partnership?

Without a will your surviving co-habitee will receive nothing from your estate and may risk losing the home that you have shared together, depending upon who owns that property and in what shares. The estate – potentially including the home in which you live – could pass to family members of the first to die.

The surviving co-habitee, already devastated by the loss of their loved one may find their world turned further upside down by the loss of their home and financial security. Family members of the deceased partner may not be sympathetic to any variation to the way the estate falls to be dealt with under the Intestacy Rules.

If you have been in a co-habiting partnership for more than two years uninterrupted, then the surviving partner may be able to bring a claim under the Inheritance Act. More uncertainty, division and expense for all concerned is potentially avoidable by making a professionally drawn-up will.

If you require further assistance to prepare a will or to seek further advice from Harrison Drury’s private client team, please call 01772 258321.


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