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Surviving spouses and civil partners are about to benefit from an additional £20,000 if their spouse dies without leaving a will (or where there is an invalid will or it fails to deal with the estate fully). Under such circumstances the “intestacy” rules prevail, which are laid down in statute and create a proscribed order as to who inherits the estate.
Since 2014, where a spouse died intestate leaving a surviving spouse and children, the surviving spouse is entitled to the first £250,000. This is known as the “statutory legacy” and includes any property or assets, which may be valuable personal belongings or other possessions. The remainder of the estate is then split between as to one half to the surviving spouse and one half equally between the children.
However, this threshold is increased every 5 years to account for inflation. From 6 February 2020, the amount of value a spouse can receive if a spouse dies intestate is rising by £20,000 to account for that inflation, bringing the total to £270,000.
While this may appear welcome news, it is not recommended that any couple, married or otherwise, risk not writing a will.
Many couples are now living together without getting married or entering into a civil partnership. Unfortunately, a number of people mistakenly believe that all assets will be handed to their other half if their partner passes away. But, the truth is, if an unmarried person dies, regardless of how long they have been in a relationship, the intestacy rules will mean their estate will go to their parents, or their brothers and sisters if both parents are no longer alive. If they have children, the estate will automatically go to them. There is no automatic right of surviving cohabiting partners to inherit the estate. This can lead to a lot of upset between families and disputes ending up in court.
Even if the intestacy rules mirror how you wish your estate to pass, if you die without having written a will, you relinquish control of what happens to your home, savings and other possessions and who will be responsible for dealing with the estate. By preparing a will, you can appoint executors who you trust to deal with matters correctly and ultimately see that your wishes are carried out.
I deal with a number of people who tell me that “no one likes to consider the prospect of dying, never mind planning for it”, but the truth is, having a will actually allows your family to live on, probably as they were before, without the threat of losing a home or income.
Remember, if your circumstances change, for example, if you have more children or you re-marry, then your will should be updated. It is also recommended that you regularly review your will to make sure it is still relevant in light of your personal and financial circumstances and does not create any unwanted tax liabilities on your death.
If you would like more information about drafting a will, or updating an existing will, contact Downs Solicitors to see how we can help.