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Why you should make a will, and why it should be up to date.

Why you should make a will, and why it should be up to date.

Back to Basics - Why Make a Will?

Why you should make a will, and why it should be up to date.

Die without a will and your loved ones must pick up the pieces – here’s how to put that right:

Of all the people who pass away every year, one third die without having made a will. Half of all adults aged 45 and above haven't got round to making a will. The reasons are obvious; it’s not very pleasant to have to think about our own mortality, and some people do worry about the potential cost. Yet making your will is an essential part of planning for your future, and one of the easiest and most effective actions you can take to protect your family. 

What are the consequences of dying without a will? 

If you die without a will, you are “intestate”, and who can inherit from you is governed by the “intestacy rules”.  There is a pecking order to who inherits your estate according to these rules: 

  • Your spouse (but NOT your partner if you just live together) inherits everything if you don’t have children. But if you do have children, your spouse inherits the first £250,000, all your personal belongings plus one half of anything else -  your children inherit whatever is left over, if anything. 
  • Your children or their descendants inherit everything if you are unmarried. 
  • If you are single and childless, your parents inherit everything. 
  • If your parents are no longer with us, your brothers and sisters, or their descendants, inherit everything  
  • If you have half-siblings, they only inherit if you have no siblings of the whole blood. 
  • If you are an only child and have lost your parents, everything goes to your grandparents if they still happen to be alive. 
  • If not, everything goes to your aunts and uncles, or their descendants. 
  • Half-aunts and half-uncles only inherit if you have no aunts and uncles of the whole blood. 
  • If you die without any relatives who fall into these categories, your entire estate passes to the government.  

What is very conspicuous about these rules, is that people you care deeply about and will want to provide for, may be left out if you don't make a will. Your partner, carer, close friend or favourite charity are not catered for at all by these rules.  

Common intestacy problems – and how they could be prevented 

Pamela and George lived together as partners in Pamela’s house for many years, never got married and never had children. When Pamela passed away, her only sister Davina inherited Pamela’s house, and Davina had the right to ask George to move out. However, Pamela could have made a will leaving the house to George. 

John and Barbara married for the second time, each with children from first marriages, and lived in John’s house which was worth £300,000. When John died, Barbara inherited £275,000 and John’s son Stephen inherited just £25,000. When Barbara died, the £275,000 was inherited by her daughter Caroline, with Stephen inheriting nothing, with the result that the bulk of John’s estate was diverted away from his own family line in favour of Barbara’s. John could instead have made a will leaving his estate to Stephen subject to a right for Barbara to stay on in the house for the rest of her life.  

However, if John and Barbara had not married, on John’s death, Stephen would have inherited and acquired the right to ask Barbara to move out. Again, leaving the house to Stephen in his will, whilst also giving Barbara the right to live on in the house for life, would have protected Barbara whilst preserving Stephen’s inheritance.  

Evelyn was an elderly spinster, an only child of two only children. She had no close family, but was cared for in later life by her best friend Margaret. On Evelyn’s death, her entire estate went to the government. Margaret received nothing at all, and the government’s Bona Vacantia Unit, which is the department that collects inheritances for the government, wouldn't even let Margaret pay for the wake, the wreath or a decent headstone with Evelyn’s money. This could have been avoided if Evelyn had made a will providing for Margaret and stipulating her funeral wishes. 

These examples show how important it is to understand how the Intestacy Rules would apply to you if you died without leaving a will. If the rules operate in a way that leaves out people that you want to provide for, then making a will is essential to ensuring that your estate is passed according to your wishes. 

Executors and Guardians in the absence of a will. 

Even if the Intestacy Rules do happen to operate in a way that suits you, there are two other considerations that may still make it essential that you make a will.  

An important consequence of dying without a will is that you don't get to choose the executors of your estate.  In the absence of a named executor, your closest relative is the person with responsibility for winding up your estate after your death. This is the case even if your closest relative lacks the skills or confidence to handle the responsibility. Your closest relative may be a frail and elderly parent, or may be your spouse who is devastated by grief and unable to cope. Making a clear and thoughtful decision about choice of executor of your will is such an important courtesy to your family.   

The most important consideration for parents of young children is that dying without a will robs you of the opportunity to nominate guardians for your children. This leaves your children in limbo if you pass away during their childhood. There are no hard and fast rules about who should look after orphaned children. The decision rests with the local authority, based on what is in the children’s best interests, and their views may not coincide with your own.   

Does your will need updating? 

Finally, if you have already made a will, bear in mind that it needs to be updated whenever a major life event happens, such as when you get married, when you have children, when your children have grown up and left home, if you get divorced or are widowed, or if you remarry. All these events will materially change what needs to be included in your will.  

So, if you haven’t made your will yet, or if you need to update your existing will, do get in touch, either by phone on 0151 601 5399 or by filling in the contact form below, for a confidential chat about how we can put things right for you.  

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