impact on life - healthcare publishing

What Happens if I Die Without a Will (Intestate)?

More than two thirds of people in the UK do not have a will. The reasons most cited for this are not getting round to it, not having anything worth bequeathing, worries about the cost of having a will drawn up, and not wanting to focus on such a morbid subject.

Writing your will does not mean you'll suddenly find yourself on your death bed. It is sad to think about a time you won't be here, but it's essential for your peace of mind, especially if you have children, and to save your loved ones from unnecessary stress in the future.

Dying without making a will (or 'intestate' to use the legal term) can create a lot of anxiety for those left behind. Essentially, it means the government will decide the order of who gets what from your estate, and if no one comes forward, the government will take everything. The Law (under the Administration of Estates Act) ensures that spouses and children are provided for where possible from whatever money, property or possessions a person leaves when they die (the 'estate') once any debts have been settled but this can take time to sort out, during which your loved ones may not be sure where they stand.

Intestate Legislation

Under current legislation, if you were to die intestate but have children, your spouse or civil partner would inherit your personal possessions, the first £250,000 of your estate and life interest (the use of your assets but not their ownership). Surviving children or grandchildren can claim some of the estate if it exceeds £250,000.

If you do not have children but do have a surviving parent, sibling, nephew or niece, your spouse or civil partner would receive your personal possessions and the first £450,000 of your estate. The rest of your estate would be shared between your partner and surviving relatives. If you have no surviving relatives, your estate would go to the Crown.

It is worth noting that if you and your partner are not married or in a civil partnership, the law views them as a friend and they may not receive any provision from your estate, leaving them in financial difficulty. Note also that in some (but not all) cases, jointly owned assets may pass to the co-owners, irrespective of the above rules of intestacy.

A consultation (carried out in 2005) recommended an increase in statutory legacy figures, so the above thresholds may be subject to change in the future. The Government is currently considering giving unmarried partners the right to benefit under the intestacy rules. The Law Commission published its recommendations on 14th December 2011. The final report presents two draft bills: The Inheritance and Trustees' Powers 2 Bill and the Inheritance (Cohabitants) Bill).

The latter contains further provisions that would give unmarried couples who have lived together for five years the right to inherit on each other's death under the intestacy rules. Where the couple has a child, this entitlement would accrue after two years' cohabitation, providing the child was living with the couple when the deceased died. We are not aware of any changes to the law as a result of these recommendations at the time of writing (March 2013).

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