Your property and possessions will be distributed according to the law instead of your particular wishes, if you die without a valid Will. This can result in consequences that you may not have foreseen during your lifetime, such as your estate passing to relatives that you no longer have contact with or someone who is very important in your life ending up with nothing from your estate.
The law of ‘intestacy’ as it is known, which comes into effect on the death of a person without a valid Will, is a set of rules that are inflexible, made in 1925 (with a few amendments made since, but still not taking into account modern family lifestyles) and applied in a standard manner using a set order of family members*. It is this law, which determines who gets what and how much, if you die without a Will. It really doesn’t matter what your personal relationship with any of those relatives may have been like during your lifetime; this is simply not considered. Therefore, it is advisable to know where your estate would go if you were to die without a Will, so that you can take steps to make a Will and change this, if it doesn’t meet your expectations**. The common points to note about this are:
- If you are not married and not in a civil partnership, but you live with someone as partners and you want them to inherit something from your estate when you die, then need to make a Will to express this wish.
- If you are married or you are in a civil partnership, your spouse/civil partner may inherit most or all your estate and your children may get nothing or less than you would wish them to get. This is also the case if you are separated but not divorced.
- If you have children or grandchildren, the amount they are legally entitled to depends on where you live in the UK (Scotland and NI have a different legal system to England and Wales).
- Any Inheritance Tax that your estate must pay may be higher than it would be if you had made a Will.
- If you have no spouse, civil partner or living relatives at all, your estate will pass entirely to the Crown (‘bona vacantia’) so having a Will in place ensures that it could pass elsewhere, perhaps to a close friend or to charity.
- Children and grandchildren can only inherit under the rules of intestacy if they are biological children of the deceased or were legally adopted by the deceased. Those who were treated as children of the deceased, such as in a blended family without formal adoption, will not be eligible.
*see – The Society of Will Writers flowchart on intestacy