On 1 February 2009 the amount of the statutory legacies payable to the surviving spouse on an intestacy is being increased from £125,000 to £250,000 (where there is issue) and from £200,000 to £450,000 (where there is no issue).
It is understood that the majority of the population do not have a will and there may be many reasons for this. They may feel that their estate is too small to warrant the trouble and expense of a will, or they may assume that by their doing nothing, the surviving spouse will automatically inherit everything. This is possible, but generally only when there are no children or other issue, no parents, no brothers or sisters, or nieces or nephews – hardly very likely.
The reasonably well informed will be aware that there are statutory provisions dealing with the devolution of property on an intestacy. However, they may not appreciate just how these rules work or where their money may end up – or the tax implications.
An important consideration is that getting married (or entering into a civil partnership) automatically revokes a will unless it is made specifically in contemplation of marriage. Accordingly, newlyweds could find themselves without valid wills just at the time when having a will is of particular importance. The position could be catastrophic. For example, a young (rich) husband and his younger (and less rich) wife may both be involved in a fatal accident on their honeymoon. Unless it can be shown that the wife died before the husband, his wealth will pass to her and almost immediately will pass to her parents. A tragic accident could, therefore, cause the groom’s wealth to pass straight to his mother-in-law. This is not necessarily a prospect he may have fully appreciated in his post- (or pre)nuptial bliss.