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Who inherits when there’s no will?

21st June 2019

At IMC, we remain adamant in our view that it’s incredibly important for everybody to have written a will. It’s essential to do as much as possible to ensure that your friends, relatives and dependents are cared for when you’re gone. By writing a will, you will have created a legally binding document that ensures that your wishes are fulfilled upon your death.

When you die with a professionally written will, you have an airtight, legal document that is designed to ensure your wishes are fulfilled after your death. Your assets will be left to whomever you have decided, whether that be your home, savings or even your pets.

In this article, we look into what happens if you have no will when you die. Who inherits when there is no will? How are your assets split? Do your assets go to the government? Read on to understand the process of what occurs when you die without a will.

Dying without a will

When dying without any will – or with an invalid will – the law of intestacy will be invoked. Intestacy law is the legal process through which the courts decide who should receive your assets upon your death.

What is intestacy law?

If you die without creating a will, or with an invalid will, you are determined to have ‘died in intestate’. If this occurs, intestacy law is used to determine who should receive your assets. Dying without a will doesn’t mean that your next of kin receive nothing, but it does mean that you won’t get to choose who receives what. And the individuals in question may not be able to come to an agreement by themselves.

Intestacy law follows a strict process and – despite the fact that the people you would have chosen to divvy your assets out to will often benefit – it can cause issues. The law places different relatives at different points of priority in terms of who will benefit from your assets when you die. Below we have set out the way in which the law of intestacy is used to decide who your beneficiaries will be upon your death.

Intestacy law will be enacted differently based on your surviving relatives:

Spouse or civil partner with children:

If you have a spouse and a child or children with them, your spouse will automatically inherit the first £250,000 of your estate and all of your possessions, if there is anything left over after that, they will inherit half. The other half of the value of your estate will be divided equally among your children.

It is very important to remember that your estate will still be split this way if you and your spouse are separated. However, if you are divorced none of your assets will be passed to your former spouse.

Spouse and civil partner with no children:

Your spouse will inherit your entire estate.

Children and no spouse or civil partner:

Your children will inherit your entire estate. If you have more than one child it will be divided equally among them.

No spouse, civil partner or children:

If you have no immediate family, your estate will be left to your relatives in the following pre-defined order: parents, siblings, nieces/nephews, aunts/uncles. If upon your death there are no family members to leave your wealth to, your estate will be sold and the resulting monies will be given to the government.

 

Why problems may occur

Now that you know who inherits when there is no will, you may be unsure as to how issues can occur, particularly if you were planning on leaving your estate solely to your spouse and children. Intestacy law is designed to be as complementary as possible to the wishes people are likely to have, but the following issues can still arise.

Death can bring out the worst in people

Firstly, it is important to remember that your children, friends and more distant relatives may feel left out if your wishes are not laid out clearly in a will. With the government deciding how your estate is divided, promises you may have made to people in terms of bequeathing items of material or sentimental value will have no legal recognition.

Family heirlooms are often a cause of contention when a person dies with no will. A father may wish to leave a watch to their son, or a mother may wish to leave her daughter her engagement ring. Through intestacy law, there is no legal right for an heirloom to be passed to the intended recipient.

Assets may pass to someone else

One problem that is possible when dying in intestate that faces a number of people with either no will or an invalid one is that money can technically be passed to absent family members you may never have met. At the same time, it could also be passed to a spouse who you have separated from but have not divorced.

The most common situation in which your estate may pass onto someone you did not intend it to is down to the presumption by many people that there is such a thing as a ‘common law spouse’. No matter how long you have lived with somebody, even if you have had children with them, you are not legally a couple in the eyes of the law unless you get married or have a civil partnership. This means that any inheritance will automatically pass to your children or parents before your long-term partner.

We hope that this article has helped you to understand the importance of having a will. For professional, independent will writing advice get in touch with the friendly IMC team.

 

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