Making a Will is something which we all think about doing, but never quite get sorted. But what happens if you haven’t made a Will?

The general misconception is that your spouse will inherit your entire estate, therefore so long as you are married there is no need have a Will drawn up. The reality is, if you do not make a Will, set down rules will decide how your estate is distributed, and to whom. This will often not reflect your wishes, or what you expect to happen. If you die without a valid Will you die “intestate”, which means that the Intestacy Rules written in 1925 will determine the distribution of your estate. Despite being updated last year, the Rules remain archaic and do not reflect today’s diverse and complicated family structures.

If you haven't yet made a Will, read on....

Your spouse will only inherit your entire estate if you have no children and have no surviving parents, brothers or sisters of the whole blood.

If you have no children, but have parents or brothers or sisters of the whole blood, your spouse can inherit up to £450,000. If your net estate is over £450,000, your spouse is entitled to £450,000 plus your personal belongings and half of the rest. The other half is divided equally between your surviving parents, but if no parents between your blood brothers and sisters.

If you have children, your spouse will only inherit your entire estate if the net value is not more than £250,000. If your estate is over £250,000, your spouse is entitled to the first £250,000 plus your personal belongings, and the income or an interest in half the remainder during his/her lifetime. The other half is shared equally between your children, and your children will inherit the remainder on your spouse’s death.

Just note:

  • There is no such thing as a common-law husband or wife. Co-habiting couples have no automatic right to a share of their partner’s estate.
  • If you are separated or your divorce/dissolution has not been finalised, your spouse is still entitled to inherit from your estate.
  • Only blood relatives, and those related by legal adoption, are entitled to share in the estate. Therefore step-children or step-brothers and sisters cannot inherit.
  • You may have children, elderly relatives, or relatives with a disability that you want to ensure are looked after and provided for.
  • If you have not nominated a guardian for your children, the court can appoint one.
  • Assets passing to anyone other than to your spouse will potentially be subject to Inheritance Tax.
  • Joint assets pass automatically to the other joint owner(s) and do not form part of your estate, therefore they do not pass in accordance with your Will.

The Law Commission is currently considering significant changes to the Intestacy Rules (including giving cohabitants rights to your estate), but it is not known when these changes will be introduced.

Put simply, making a legally valid Will is the only effective way to ensure that you protect those that you care about, and potentially saves your loved ones the time, stress and additional expense of trying to sort out your affairs.