Latimer Hinks Solicitors are concerned that many people do not have a will, wrongly assuming that everything they own will automatically go to their spouse/partner or children.
The distribution of estates where someone dies intestate (without a will) has recently changed with the level of the statutory legacy the amount a spouse or civil partner will receive - having been increased significantly to bring it more in to line with todays values.
But Anne Elliott, a Partner at Latimer Hinks, warns: For a widow(er)/civil partner where the deceased has children the statutory legacy has risen from 125,000 to 250,000. This means that in most estates with a value of less than 250,000 the whole of the estate will pass to the surviving spouse or civil partner.
But what is not generally appreciated is that if a couple are living together but have not made the union legal (by way of marriage or a civil partnership) if they have not made wills then their estate will not pass onto the survivor.
She added: Also today it is far more common for people to have been married more than once. A will can be vital in ensuring that any assets someone leaves go to the people they want to benefit, particular if there are children from previous relationships.
The new intestacy rules provide:
All of an estate valued at less than 250,000 goes to the spouse/civil partner.
If the estate is worth more than 250,000 and, there are children, anything above that figure is divided into two shares with one going to any children of the deceased at 18 and the other share being left so that the surviving spouse/civil partner receives the income from that share which, on his/her death passes to the children. Personal possessions pass to the spouse/civil partner.
When there is a spouse/civil partner but no children it might be assumed that a spouse will receive everything. In fact, if there are surviving relatives eg parents, brothers or sisters, the spouse/civil partner will receive the first 450,000 plus personal possessions and anything over and above 450,000 will be split into two shares one going to the spouse/civil partner and one to the surviving relatives with a specific order of seniority - parents then brother/sisters etc
If there is no surviving spouse or civil partner, but a co-habitee, he/she will not be entitled to anything under the intestacy laws. There is no such thing as a common law spouse. Children, in this case, would inherit the whole estate. If there were not any children/grandchildren then the estate would pass through the blood line of relatives of the deceased if there were surviving parents, brothers or sisters they would inherit before the co-habitee regardless of the length of the relationship.
Anne said: The intestacy rules are complex. Anyone who dies without a will runs the risk (depending on their personal circumstances) of his/her estate not going as they intend.
It is important, if you want to provide for someone (or, indeed, exclude someone from benefiting) that you make a will or up-date your will an out of date will is often as problematic as there being no will at all! And remember, if youve married or entered into a civil partnership since you made your last will you must make a new will.
A will is crucial if you want to guarantee you benefit chosen friends, relatives or charities and also helps to prevent challenges from unhappy relatives. It has to be sensible to seek expert advice.