What happens if I die without a Will?

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A well-structured Will can help to avoid family disputes by ensuring that your hard-earned assets are distributed to, and remain with, your intended beneficiaries.

If you die without a valid Will, your assets will be distributed in accordance with the ‘Rules of Intestacy’. These are quite complex, but two common scenarios are as follows:

  • If you don’t have children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, your spouse (which means a civil partner too) will inherit your entire estate.
  • If you have children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, your spouse will inherit all of your personal property and belongings, the first £270,000 of your estate, and half of the remainder.

Relying on the Rules of Intestacy rather than making a Will could have unforeseen consequences which are not in accordance with your wishes.

Separation

If you separate from your spouse without formally divorcing, it’s crucial that you write a Will. In this situation, your spouse could inherit all, or a large proportion, of your estate if you died intestate, meaning that any children you may have would miss out on an inheritance. Even with a Will, your spouse could make a claim against your estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, so it’s important to seek professional advice to ensure that the document is well-structured to guard against this prospect..

Equally, if one of your children had separated or was divorcing from their partner at the time you pass away, then they risk losing a large proportion of their inheritance as part of their divorce settlement. Again, a carefully drafted Will can help to protect them in such a situation.

Cohabitation

Unmarried partners do not inherit under the Rules of Intestacy. So, if you have a partner but are not married, and you die without a valid Will, then your partner’s financial security could be jeopardised. Your partner could be forced out of their home by those who do inherit, or be left with inadequate financial provision to maintain a reasonable standard of living. This may lead to disputes within the family and costly litigation.

Step-children

Step-children do not inherit under the Rules of Intestacy. With a growing number of blended families, step-children could miss out on inheritance if a Will is not in place. If family members are inadvertently disinherited, this may also lead to disputes and potential litigation.

Care Costs and Remarriage

Naturally, you may want to provide for your surviving spouse after your death, but the way in which you make provision for them is crucial. If you leave everything to your spouse by either failing to write a Will or only leaving a basic Will, your assets could be left exposed.

If you leave all of your assets to your surviving spouse and they then require care in later life, then your hard-earned assets would be subject to a Local Authority means test. This could result in your life savings and family home being lost in funding care fees, meaning your children and grandchildren miss out on their inheritance completely.

The same risks apply where remarriage is concerned. The act of marriage cancels any former Will. So, if everything is left to your surviving spouse and they remarry, then their new spouse becomes the next in line to inherit when your surviving spouse dies.

Other scenarios

These are just some of the scenarios our Private Client team has encountered that underline the importance of holding a well-structured Will tailored to your personal circumstances:

  • Mr and Mrs S were married for four years. Mrs S had two children of her own from a previous relationship, as did Mr S. When Mrs S died unexpectedly, everything she owned passed to her husband under the Rules of Intestacy. The relationship between Mr S and his late wife’s children deteriorated after Mrs S died, and he subsequently made a Will to leave everything to his own children. When Mr S dies, the whole estate will pass to his children, and Mrs S’ children will miss out on an inheritance.
  • Mrs J, who lived with two of her adult children, died without a Will. Mrs J’s daughter had sadly died a number of years prior, so her share of the estate passed to her children (Mrs J’s grandchildren) under the Rules of Intestacy. The grandchildren are pushing for Mrs J’s house to be sold so that they can receive their inheritance. Mrs J’s children now face the prospect of a legal dispute and a family fallout if they attempt to remain living in the family home.
  • Mr H owned a rental property which he verbally promised to pass on to his eldest son when he died. Mr H died without a Will and the rental property passed to his wife under the Rules of Intestacy. Mrs H is in receipt of means tested benefits due to health problems and now stands to lose her benefit entitlement as a result of receiving the inheritance from her late husband. If Mrs H were to try to redirect the inheritance to her son, this would constitute a deprivation of assets.

As you can see, a Will is an invaluable document to protect and provide for your loved ones. Our role in advising clients is to identify risks such as those outlined above, and to consider scenarios that may not have crossed your mind.