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Intestacy explained - statutory legacy sum due to rise for intestate estates

View profile for Jane Cox
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Research conducted last year by organisation Remember a Charity shows that currently two thirds of UK adults do not have a Will, meaning they run the risk of dying intestate and having their estate distributed according to intestacy rules. The statutory legacy sum is due to rise on 6th February which will entitle surviving spouses and civil partners to a larger sum of the estate when their partner dies intestate. Here Jane Cox, Private Client Partner, urges people to use this news as an incentive to find out more about getting a Will written and what the consequences are of not having one in place.

What is dying intestate?

When a person dies without having a Will in place they have died intestate, meaning that their estate will be distributed according to the law, opposed to how they would have wished.

There are certain people that can inherit under the rules of intestacy, which will be dependent on your own family situation and are in the following order:

  • Spouse or civil partner
  • Children/grandchildren
  • Parents
  • Brothers and sisters
  • Grandparents
  • Uncles and aunts

If the deceased has no children, their spouse or civil partner will inherit the whole of their estate. However, if they do have children their spouse or civil partner will inherit the estate up to the value of £250,000 (until 6th February 2020), which is the statutory legacy sum, after which they will receive half of the remaining estate with the rest divided between the children. This statutory legacy sum is due to rise to £270,000 after 6th February 2020. 

This list also determines who will act as Administrator for the estate, who is the person who makes the probate application, in this situation the Letters of Administration. They will also distribute the estate accordingly. 

In the situation where the deceased has no relatives in the list, then their estate will go to the Crown, which is known as ‘bono vacantia’.

Myths around intestacy – who cannot inherit

Unfortunately, there are still many misconceptions regarding whether certain people can inherit if a person dies without a Will, specifically cohabitants and unmarried partners, or what people still refer to as ‘common law spouses’.  Legally, this term has no authority and so those living with their partner when they pass away will not be entitled to any of their estate and it will pass instead to their family under the laws of intestacy. 

Those also excluded are ex-spouses, step-parents and step-children, as well as close friends.  

Dying intestate - increased risk of disputes

According to the same research by Remember a Charity, 70% of people believe that their families will easily split their assets after they die. This may not be the case however, particularly if they believe that they would naturally inherit when the laws of intestacy exclude them. Your loved ones could find themselves in a timely and costly legal battle at a time when they are already coming to terms with your death.

Why should I write a Will? 

There are so many important reasons why everyone should have a Will. As well as determining who will inherit your estate and minimise the risk of disputes between your family and loved ones, you can also make the following arrangements:

  • Appointing guardians for your children,
  • Deciding how old your children will be when they inherit,
  • Appointing your own Executors,
  • If you are married, separated or divorced, it is particularly important to make a Will to ensure your estate will be distributed in accordance with your wishes,
  • You can leave instructions as to what will happen with your digital assets, such as your online banking, investments and social media accounts,
  • Confirming funeral arrangements.

When writing a Will, we would ask you to consider the following topics prior to a meeting:

  • A list of assets and how they are owned, whether jointly or solely,
  • If any of those assets are owned abroad,
  • Whether you own a business or are self-employed,
  • Who you wish to be your beneficiaries and how you wish your estate to be divided,
  • The likelihood of any potential claims against your estate,
  • Whether you have other documents in place for the future, such as a Lasting Power of Attorney.

“Writing a Will is the best way to ensure that your wishes are met after you pass away, and that your loved ones are looked after in the way you wish,” Jane concludes. “Not only that, but it will be one less burden for your loved ones to endure when they are already in a state of grief. It is concerning to look at the figures from the research which state that 30% don’t think they are rich enough to have a Will, 43% believe it is complicated to make one, 30% that it is time consuming and 27% that it is expensive. These are concerns that we see every day, but making a Will does not need to be these things. 

“Most people we see are surprised at how easy it all is, and the hardest bit has actually been to make the appointment in the first place. It is crucial that you seek legal advice when considering these types of arrangements, as only a legal professional will be able to advise as to the best course of action for your family. We can discuss these options with you and help you secure your assets for your family in the future.”

To discuss writing your Will with Jane or a member of the Private Client team, contact Justine Alexander on 01329 222075 or email justinealexander@warnergoodman.co.uk

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice. All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.