Why is a Will important?
"A will is a legal document that sets out instructions on who will inherit your estate and what should happen after you die."
What does a will do?
A will is a legal document that sets out instructions on who will inherit your estate and what should happen after you die. It enables you to:
- Name your children’s guardians
- Ensure your children are provided for financially
- Provide for your dependents
- Protect your partner if you are unmarried
- Safeguard your family home
- Head off family disputes
- Reduce the amount of Inheritance Tax you will be charged
- Decide who you want to settle your affairs
- Say who you would like to look after your pets
- Protect your digital assets
- Support a charity
You should consider updating your will if:
- Your intentions change
- You get married
- You have an unmarried partner who you want to inherit your estate
- You have a child
- You get divorced
- You want to make provisions for stepchildren, foster children, or dependents
- Your spouse passes away and your previous will left the estate to them
For a will to be valid you must be 18 or over, make it voluntarily, be of sound mind, make it in writing, sign in the presence of two witnesses who are both over 18 and have it signed by your two witnesses in your presence. Witnesses should not have any beneficial interest in the will (although they can be executors).
You are entitled to write the will yourself or enlist the support of a solicitor or expert will-writer. You should store the will safely and securely and ensure the executor(s) know how to find it.
What happens if you die without a will?
If there is not a will or the will has not been validly executed, the estate is said to be “intestate”. This means it will be distributed following the rules of intestacy. This also applies where a person leaves a valid will but it does not distribute all of their estate – for example, when named beneficiaries have died.
The rules of intestacy set out the order in which the estate is distributed. The current rules state:
- Where there is a surviving spouse and no children, the spouse is entitled to the entire estate
- Where there is a surviving spouse and children, the spouse is entitled to the property of the deceased and a statutory legacy of £270,000. The remainder of the estate (where applicable) is divided equally between the spouse (50%) and the children (50% divided between the number of children)
- Where there is no surviving spouse the children receive the estate
- Where there is no surviving spouse or children, the parents of the deceased receive the estate
- Where there is no surviving spouse, children or parents, siblings who share both parents receive the estate. If there are no siblings who share both parents, then siblings who share one parent in common receive the estate
- Where there is no surviving spouse, children, parents or siblings, grandparents of the deceased receive equal shares of the estate
- Where there is no surviving spouse, children, parents, siblings or grandparents, aunts or uncles of the deceased receive equal shares of the estate
- Where there is no surviving spouse, children, parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts or uncles, then the Crown will inherit the estate
There are no provisions under the rules of intestacy for cohabitants unless couples are married or in a civil partnership. This does vary where a property is owned under a joint tenancy, in those circumstances the surviving partner will automatically inherit the deceased’s share of the property.
Managing the estate
If there is a will, the first step following the death, is for the named executor(s) to apply for a “Grant of Probate” – https://www.gov.uk/applying-for-probate
Where there is not a will and the deceased has died intestate, the most “entitled” inheritor of the deceased’s estate (usually their closest living relative) can apply for a “Letter of Administration” – https://www.gov.uk/applying-for-probate