What is a will?
A will is a legally binding document which sets out your wishes for later life, including how your assets will be passed on to your loved ones. However, wills are not simply designed to specify who should inherit certain belongings; in a will, you may also state who should be the guardian of your children or give preferences about your funeral arrangements. A will is good way to ensure peace of mind, knowing that your wishes will be adhered to.
What happens when someone dies without a will in the UK?
This is a common question that Wills and Probate solicitors face. If you die without a valid Will you are said to have died ‘intestate’. This means that your assets will be passed on according to the intestacy rules. These standardised rules only take into account family connections, meaning that your specific situation and your loved ones’ needs are not taken into account.
This often causes unforeseen stress and problems for families at what is already a most difficult time. For example, an unmarried partner would be not be entitled to receive anything, even if they had lived with you for a number of years. Furthermore, step-children often end up being left out, as there is no blood relation.
To help illustrate the importance of a will, we’ll look at 10 realistic situations where a will would help provide peace of mind for your future:
- Buying a new property – for most people this is the first major asset that they will own, but who will inherit it, or your share of it if you have bought it with others? If you own it jointly, is it as tenants in common or beneficial joint tenants? If the former, it will pass under the terms of your will (or the intestacy rules which apply to the distribution of your estate if you don’t leave a valid will), but if the latter, it will pass automatically to the other owner(s). If your share is worth more than the available nil rate band exemption, who will pay the inheritance tax (IHT) on it? Is there a mortgage on it and if so how will that be paid?
- In a long term relationship, but not married or in a civil partnership – if you don’t make specific provision for your other half in a will, they will not inherit under the intestacy rules. So called ‘common law’ spouses (which has no legal meaning) have no automatic rights to inherit, so it is important to make provision for them in a will. This may be particularly so if you own a property together as tenants in common.
- Getting married – marriage revokes a will in this country, so even if you are happy with the terms of an existing will, you would need to have a new one, which can be made in expectation of that particular marriage (or civil partnership). If you marry and don’t make a new will, the intestacy rules will apply, which may produce unexpected and unwelcome results.
- Birth of a child (or grandchild) – do you want to make some specific provision for a child or grandchild, perhaps a specific amount or a share of the total (the residue). When would you be happy for them to inherit? 18 is the default age, but is that too young, particularly if they will be inheriting a large amount? Perhaps trust provisions need to be included to protect their money until they reach an older age?
- Who will be the guardians/trustees – who will care for your children if something happens to you? Similarly who will look after their share of the estate if they are too young to inherit and ensure that it is invested correctly and applied for their benefit? They will be the guardians and trustees respectively and it is critical to appoint suitable people to those roles?
- Getting separated/divorced – sadly, not all relationships last. If you separate but don’t divorce, your spouse will still inherit from you if you die with an existing will that appoints them or under the intestacy rules if you didn’t. So that may be an important time to make changes to your will. If you divorce, any reference to your spouse in an existing will is treated as if they had died before you, but you may still need to update your will to appoint new executors and/or beneficiaries.
- Lifetime gifts – if you have given a child a significant amount, perhaps some help to get on the property ladder, do you need to even things up with other children in the will, to be sure that they all end up with the same amount.
- Getting married again – you may need to think about making provision for a second spouse but also the children from a previous relationship? You may want to consider trust provisions that leave the surviving spouse with a life interest in the home or other assets, to ensure that on their death, those assets pass automatically to your children.
- Leaving the family business – who will inherit your shares in the family business? Are you making best use of Business Property Relief in the structure of your will? If only one child is involved in the business, what provision might be made for other children?
- Making arrangements for your funeral – do you have particular wishes for the type of funeral you want? Have you already got a burial plot? Do your family know where it is? A will can be a useful place to record those details.
A will can help to provide safety and security for your loved ones and ensure that your wishes are met when you pass away. Our experienced Wills and Probate solicitors in London can help you to draft a will that fully meets your needs. To discuss your will with us, get in touch today on 0808 252 5231 or contact us online.