Where a person dies without having made a Will, they die “intestate”. That person’s property and money is then distributed in accordance with the rules of intestacy. These rules are not straight forward and do not reflect today’s way of life.
If the person died leaving a spouse and children, from that marriage or any earlier relationship, the surviving spouse will only receive the entire value of the deceased’s property if the value of the property and money combined is less than £250,000 (not including any money or assets held jointly). The children will receive nothing, which maybe ok, but it may not. If the value of the person’s property is more than £250,000 then £250,000 transfers exclusively to the surviving spouse along with 50% of the balance. The remainder is then divided equally between any surviving children but may mean that the family home has to be sold so the children can receive their share. But this only relates to the most straightforward of situations.
There may be step-children of the deceased and as they are not classed as his/hers they will not inherit anything. It may be that the deceased did not marry his/her lifelong partner with whom they co-habit, or is still married to their estranged spouse. That co-habiting partner will receive nothing but the spouse will likely receive the inheritance instead. It may be that the person made a Will for the benefit of his or her children but the person remarried, thinking that all would be fine with the previously drawn Will. Unless that Will was prepared in the contemplation of the marriage, the Will is invalidated by that marriage and the rules of intestacy apply, the new spouse inheriting first as above.
Marriage does not mean that the spouse gets it all and a Will made years ago may no longer be valid or may be so out of date that the majority of the estate passes under the rules of intestacy in any case. For example, your Will may refer to your home that you lived in 25 years ago and you intended to leave that to be equally shared between your niece and nephew (whom you raised as your own children) and your own children and step-children. You sold that home when your spouse died and bought your current home and two buy-to-let properties to fund your retirement. If the Will is not drafted widely enough to cover all property, those properties not referred to in your 25 year old Will shall pass under the intestacy rules and your niece, nephew and step-children will receive nothing, despite your best intentions to make provision for them.
Such important matters should be kept under regular review, to ensure that those you intend to benefit really do benefit.
Disputes often occur in relation to estates because of the mistaken belief of either the person who has died or the surviving partner or family members. It can often be the case that such disputes could have been avoided had the person who died made his or her wishes clear in a Will, which was kept under regular review and updated. The costs and expenses that the parties to the dispute incur in seeking a solution may be ordered to be paid out of the estate. This can have a huge impact on the amount that each beneficiary will then receive.
If you would like to discuss making a Will or reviewing your existing Will please contact a member of our Wills and Probate Team. If you have concerns regarding inheritance please contact Frances Woods or a member of our Dispute Resolution Team on 01905 721600.