Kate has over eight years of experience as an employment and personal injury legal executive. She runs LawCat, a legal explanations website.
We often hear legal professionals lecture us on getting our wills organised. It is something we know we need to sit down and get sorted, but it often rapidly becomes a "tomorrow" job, something we keep putting off. This article will address what happens if you fail to get your will in place.
1. What Happens to My Estate If I Die Without a Will
If you pass away without getting your will correctly signed and witnessed, then you will have died intestate. This means that your estate will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy. This will happen even if you have a will if it wasn't signed and witnessed correctly to make it valid.
The rules of intestacy state who can and who cannot inherit from your estate. Once they are applied, you will have lost all control of your estate. You will not be able to provide for those you choose, and may end up providing for someone who does not need to be provided for, or worse, someone you do not wish to provide for.
2. Co-Habiting Partners Cannot Inherit (But Estranged Spouses Can)
Only married couples/civil partners and certain close relatives can inherit under the rules of intestacy. Under these rules, if you are divorced from your spouse or if your civil partnership has been legally ended, your previous spouse or partner will not inherit.
If you and your partner have lived together for years but have never gotten officially married, then, under the rules of intestacy, your cohabiting partner will not inherit from your estate regardless of how long you lived together. If you owned property together, for example a house, or joint bank account, that property will be split, and your cohabiting partner will only be able to keep their share.
However, if you are married or in a civil partnership and you informally separate, your estranged spouse or civil partner can still inherit from your estate under the intestacy rules.
3. Spouses/Civil Partners Take the Lion's Share (But Not All) of the Estate
If your estate is worth less than £250,000.00, then your spouse or partner will receive it all.
If your estate is worth more than £250,000.00, then under the intestacy rules, your surviving spouse or civil partner will receive the largest portion of your estate, but, if there are children or grandchildren or great grandchildren, your surviving spouse or civil partner will not get all of it.
If your estate is over £250,000.00, your spouse or partner will receive:
- Your personal property and belongings
- The first £250,000 of the estate
- Half of the remaining estate
This means that if your estate is valued at £800,000.00, for example, and your spouse and child stand to inherit under the intestacy rules, then your spouse will receive your personal belongings, £250,000.00, and another £275,000.00 (50% of £550,000.00) and your child will receive £275,000.00.
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If you and your civil partner or spouse owned joint bank accounts, the amount in these accounts at the time or your death will automatically pass to your spouse or civil partner. Similarly, if you and your civil partner or spouse owned property as beneficial joint tenants at the time of your death, then your civil partner or spouse will automatically inherit your share of the property. These two types of property will not be considered part of your estate under the intestacy rules and will pass automatically. However, if you owned the property as tenants in common, then your spouse or civil partner will not automatically inherit your share, and it may pass to your children.
If you have no children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren, then your surviving spouse or civil partner will inherit the entirety of your estate, regardless of any other living relatives you may have.
4. All Children are Equal (Except Grandchildren)
If you have no surviving spouse or civil partner, then your estate will be shared amongst your children, in equal shares if you have more than one. This happens regardless of your child’s age or whether you had children from different relationships.
If you have a spouse or civil partner, then after your spouse or civil partner has taken their share, as described above, your children will receive the remainder. This remainder will be apportioned to them in equal shares, again regardless of their age or which relationship they came from.
This is also true for adopted children.
A grandchild cannot inherit from your estate under the intestacy rules if their parent is alive at the time of your death.
5. The Crown Is Unlikely to Get Your Estate (Unless You Have No Blood Relatives)
If you have no spouse or civil partner, no children, and no grandchildren, you may be concerned that the Queen will swoop in and take your estate. This is actually highly unlikely, as under the intestacy rules, even if you have no surviving spouse or civil partner, no children, and no grandchildren, then your estate will continue to pass through your bloodline to your other relatives.
Parents, brothers, sisters, and nieces and nephews (if their parent was a blood relative of yours) may inherit your estate under the Intestacy rules. The order of priority amongst other relatives is as follows: parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, half-uncles and aunts and half-cousins.
If you have no surviving blood relatives when you die, then the Queen may swoop in, although it is doubtful she would do this in person. The official name for this is bona vacantia, meaning "vacant goods." If your estate becomes bona vacantia, then the Treasury Solicitor will be responsible for dealing it.
Make a Will (Seriously, Make a Will)
Wills are incredibly useful and important documents. Without a will, you have no control over who can and cannot inherit your estate; you even risk the Queen getting your stuff. While under the Intestacy rules your spouse or civil partner will stand to inherit, and perhaps your children also if your estate is large enough, your friends will not be able to inherit from your estate. If you are not married or in a civil partnership then the partner you have shared your life with will not inherit your estate.
Even if your estate will be passing under the Intestacy rules to those you would have chosen, the portion they receive could be contrary to your wishes. Your spouse receives a great deal and your children far less. if you want to make sure your children or grandchildren are provided for then you need to make a will.
You should also keep in mind that while your relationships with your family may be wonderful, your family’s relationships with each other may not be. While you get on well with your spouse or civil partner your children may not. You cannot rely on your spouse or civil partner fairly distributing the portion of the estate they received on to your children. It is unpleasant to think about, but in these situations, you must be realistic. If you want your spouse to benefit from your estate but then on their death pass the estate on to your children, you need to make a will.
You should now have a basic understanding of the rules of intestacy and how restrictive they are. You should also have an understanding of how important it is for you to make a will.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.