The intestacy rules are legally binding rules saying what happens to everything that you own — your ‘estate’ — if you die without making a will.
But the intestacy rules do not guarantee that your wife (or civil partner if you are in a civil partnership) and children will get everything, or that your estate will be divided between them in the way you want. The best way to make sure that your wife and children get everything is to make a will.
Circumstances in which it can be particularly important to make a will rather than rely on the intestacy rules include:
- Your estate could exceed the inheritance tax threshold of £325,000, triggering a potential liability to inheritance tax at 40 per cent. If you leave everything to your spouse there is no inheritance tax but if she were to die first it could be payable. Making a will can reduce the inheritance tax bill.
- The value of your spouse’s assets (including any inheritance from you) means that inheritance tax is likely to be payable when she dies.
- Some of the children that you treat as children of the family are not yours (for example, they are your wife’s children from a previous relationship).
- You want specific people to be your executors — the people legally responsible for dealing with your estate when you die.
- You want to leave something to children who may still be under 18 when you die. If so, you can set up trusts for them in your will, to hold their inheritance until they come of age or later.
- You want to make special provision for someone who is dependent on you, such as a disabled child.
- You want specific people to get certain assets — for example, a picture or family jewellery.
- There is someone who would be entitled to a share of your estate under the intestacy rules but you don’t want them to get anything.
- You own a business as sole trader or partner.
- You own shares in a family company.
- You own property abroad.
- You want to avoid or reduce liability to pay care or care home fees in the future.
- You want to nominate a legal guardian to look after your children if something happens to both you and your wife.
- You want to leave money to charity or some other cause close to your heart.
- You, your spouse or some other person you want to leave something to, are not UK resident, or are not domiciled for tax purposes in the UK.