Doesn’t the law say what happens to my estate? Yes the rules on Intestacy decide how your estate is distributed among your surviving relatives. This may be quite different from what you expect. These rules were last updated in 2014 but can still have quite complex effects, especially for someone leaving both a spouse and children and above for all for unmarried couples who may find they inherit nothing at all.
I have a common law spouse, won’t they inherit anyway under these rules? It is a common misconception that English law recognises a “common law” spouse. Only actual spouses and civil partners are within the Intestacy rules.
What happens if I have no family? The estate goes to the Crown. Only if there is a Will can your estate go to friends or charity.
What else happens if I don’t make a Will? A Will decides not only who inherits but also who administers your estate. If the beneficiaries cannot agree who will do this, let alone who inherits, there could be a bitter and long-lasting dispute, often leading to an expensive court case.
I don’t have a Will but I’ve written a letter, everyone knows my wishes. Anything less than a Will has no effect at all and can be the worst of all worlds, raising expectations that cannot legally be fulfilled and creating even more potential for family dispute.
We own a house jointly so I don’t need a Will, do I? It’s another common misconception that all joint property passes automatically to the survivor; in fact, you may even have set up the original ownership so that you held separate shares but your relationship has now changed. If the shares are still recorded as held separately, the will needs to say who now inherits.
I made my Will several years ago. Isn’t that enough? Your circumstances could have changed in a dozen ways. The chosen beneficiaries may have died before you, so that the Intestacy rules once again apply. The tax laws may have changed so that your original intentions have been overtaken or nullified by those changes. You may even have married, when your Will is automatically revoked.