The UK’s intestacy rules don’t always work in favour of less traditional families and relationships. This can lead to unexpected stress and hardship when a loved one dies without a Will.
Traditionally, couples were expected to marry, have children and stay together for life – but these days we accept that relationships and families come in all shapes and sizes. People get divorced, remarry, live together, live separately, have no children, have children with different partners… However, the law only recognises certain types of relationships. Without a Will, you or your family could be at risk of losing any claim to a loved one’s estate.
The intestacy rules
When someone dies without a Will, or the Will is invalid, their estate will be dealt with under UK intestacy rules. This means that any property and wealth they own will be dealt with in a set way, as follows:
If you’re married or in a civil partnership – with children
The surviving spouse or civil partner gets to keep everything (including property) up to the value of £270,000 as well as all personal possessions of any value.
Where the value of the estate is above £270,000, the remainder is divided equally in two – with half going to the spouse/partner and the other half divided between the children.
If you’re married or in a civil partnership – with no children
The spouse or civil partner can keep the entire estate. No other family members are considered as beneficiaries.
If you’re living together but not married or in a civil partnership
Firstly, it’s essential to note that a co-habiting partner is NOT legally considered to be next of kin.
There is a widely-held belief that, after living together for a certain length of time (usually years), co-habiting couples gain the same legal protections as married couples or civil partners. This is often referred to as ‘common law marriage’. Sadly, there is no such law that applies for unmarried couples – however long they have been together, or if they have children.
Without a Will, the surviving partner will have no claim to the estate. That includes the family home.
Instead, if the couple has children, the whole of the estate would be divided equally between them, to be inherited at age 18.
If there are no children from the relationship, the estate would pass to the next of kin, which would firstly be the parents, then siblings, followed by grandparents and, lastly, aunts/uncles.
The surviving partner is not legally entitled to inherit anything under UK intestacy laws. Understandably, this can come as a huge shock at an emotionally and financially stressful time.
Changing circumstances – does your Will still protect your loved ones?
The intestacy rules only kick in if there is no Will. Having a Will that is invalid is the same as having no Will at all.
Any existing Will automatically becomes invalid after certain life events such as getting married, remarrying or entering a civil partnership.
A Will does not automatically become invalid following a divorce, but your ex-spouse or ex-civil partner will no longer be a beneficiary*.
When you have children or stepchildren, without a Will, there is no guarantee that they will be the beneficiaries of your estate in the future.
If it’s been a while since you made your Will or your circumstances have changed, it’s prudent to have it reviewed to make sure it’s still valid, and still a true reflection of your wishes.
The risk of sideways disinheritance
Sideways disinheritance is a term used to describe a situation where a person’s estate is diverted away from their intended heirs in the future. Without a Will or a Will Trust to legally protect your beneficiaries, there is a real risk that your children may not receive the inheritance you wanted to leave them.
A typical example might be where a bereaved spouse remarries. If they die before their new spouse, have children with their new spouse or take on stepchildren, the children of the deceased may lose some or all of their inheritance.
What can you do to ensure your loved ones benefit from your estate?
The first step is to make sure you have a Will in place that is right for your circumstances now and accurately reflects your wishes. For extra peace of mind, and to build a truly formidable estate plan, you can also consider putting assets into a Will Trust.
Arrange a free Will Review consultation with RfM Legal Services Client Relationship Manager, Sharon Rigden, to discuss making a Will that’s right for you and protects your loved ones’ inheritance. If you already have a Will, you can use your free consultation time to have it reviewed to make sure it is valid and structured in the best way. Please email Sharon Rigden or call 01772 431233.
Your consultation will take place at a time and location to suit you, and you will not be obliged to act on the advice given.
As part of our portfolio of estate planning services, we can also assist with making a Lasting Power of Attorney and Inheritance Tax planning. Please get in touch if you would like more information.
*Divorce does not invalidate a Will, or bring a Will made before the marriage back into effect. However, for inheritance purposes, the ex-partner is treated as if they had died when the marriage or civil partnership was dissolved. If a couple has separated (for however long) but not divorced, the surviving partner would still be recognised as a beneficiary, either under the intestacy rules or as written in a Will made during the marriage.