The Law Commission has completed its review of our inheritance laws and made some proposals that could significantly improve the situation for the family members and loved ones of a person who has died without making a will.
The current intestacy rules dictate strictly who should receive the assets, depending upon the marital status of the deceased and the value of their estate, amongst other factors. The results can be surprising, with parents and siblings being entitled to inherit over long-term partners.
Whereas our social landscape has changed dramatically in the last fifty years, with more people choosing to live together without getting married, our inheritance laws have not changed to reflect this. Add to this the fact that many people mistakenly believe that their relationship must 'count for something' in legal terms, and so do not think they need to bother making a will, and you have a potential recipe for disaster.
The legal reality is that a cohabiting partner is not entitled to receive anything under the intestacy rules - regardless of the length or nature of their relationship. The only option available for them is to make a claim for provision from the estate, a costly, complicated and often distressing process.
Widely considered to be outdated and confusing, the new proposals seek to provide some much needed reform to the intestacy rules. If implemented, a surviving partner would have the same rights to inherit as a spouse - providing certain conditions are met. The proposals would also improve the situation for spouses and children of the deceased, for whom the current rules can also appear unfair and inappropriate.
It is, however, by no means certain that the proposals will be implemented. And although the changes would certainly be a step in the right direction, it is unlikely they would go far enough to reflect the expectations of modern-day society.
The solution is to not leave the devolution of your assets to chance. The proposals will not affect the laws relating to wills - the right to decide what happens to your property after you die will remain firmly intact. The intestacy rules therefore should not ever be relied upon, even if they are reformed. In the Commission's own words: 'if this Report has one over-arching message to the public, it is this: make a will and keep it under review'.