By failing to make a will the money and assets that make up your estate will be distributed according to a number of rules that are predefined by the law. If you are survived by children who are still minors, the arrangements for their upbringing will also be determined by law rather than your own preferences.
These laws are known as the “rules of intestacy” and while they do not seem particularly controversial at first glance, it is worth bearing in mind that they may result in your estate being distributed in a way that doesn't meet your final wishes.
What can you decide with a will?
As we all know, family dynamics and family relations can be complicated. In many cases, people would rather:
- Choose who becomes responsible for their children
- Distribute the proceeds of their estate to their grandchildren rather than their children
- Share out money to step-children as well as biological children
- Give some money to charity
- Leave a particular asset or pot of money to a niece, nephew or cousin
- Share some money out among friends
Before you get started, you may find it useful to read our mini-guide on what to consider before writing a will.
To understand how and why a will might be necessary to ensure that your wishes are carried out after death, let us take a closer look at the basic laws that would apply should you die intestate.
The basics of a will
In the UK, spouses in marriages and partners in civil partnerships are treated the same under intestacy rules. Properties and bank accounts that are jointly-owned automatically pass to the surviving spouse or partner in any event.
However, if you and your partner are not married or legally united, the law does not recognise the relationship in the event of a death. This means that the surviving partner will not automatically receive the full assets when you die, irrespective of the length of the relationship.
For this reason, unmarried partners are encouraged to draft a will in order to ensure that shared assets are allocated according to their wishes in the event that one partner dies.
In the event that an unmarried couple has children together, these children will be allocated an equal share of your estate. Further to this, if any of your children have died before you and have left children of their own, then these grandchildren will receive an equal share of their parents’ allocation. This includes both illegitimate children who can prove their parentage and adopted children.
Here are some other rules that apply to an estate in the event that an unmarried individual dies without any children:
- The estate is shared out to any surviving parents
- If the parents are deceased, any brothers and sisters (who share both the same parents as the individual) receive an equal share of the estate
- In the event that any of these siblings have died but are survived by their own children, those children receive an equal share of their parent’s portion of the estate.
A will can help your family
By clearly stating your final wishes – both for your assets and any children you leave behind – a will can help to avoid confusion and conflict amongst those you love.
It is not uncommon for there to be disagreements following an intestate death, especially where large sums of money are involved. Should your family situation be complex or your choice of guardian for your children be outside your immediate family, a will is essential to achieving the right outcome and avoiding unwanted issues.
Without a will, it is possible for unmarried partners, close friends, carers or relations by marriage to be left without the inheritance you would want them to receive.
Are you looking to get a will drawn up? Want to find the right legal provider for you?