Making a Will is straightforward and allows you to clearly express your wishes. Without a Will, those decisions can be taken away from you and the rules laid down by law will come into force, leaving behind a lot of unnecessary heartache and stress.
Your partner may be forced to moved out of your home or a distant relative could have your estate pass into their hands instead of the people who are most important to you.
In this article, we uncover 5 important facts about Wills and Probate that you need to know – and those that you may not be aware of. We will cover a series of scenarios that detail how your assets will be handled after you die and how a Will could stop these events from happening.
Upon your death, your partner will typically be the first in line to inherit your estate, although this isn’t automatic or guaranteed. If you do not have a valid Will, under the rules of intestacy, only married or civil partners and some other close relatives can inherit your estate.
Lesbian or gay partners who are not in a civil partnership will also not inherit under the rules of intestacy.
If there are surviving children, grandchildren or great grandchildren of the deceased partner and the estate is worth more than £250,000, the partner will inherit all of the personal property and belongings, the first £250,000 of the estate and half of the remaining estate.
For example: John was married to Margaret and had one child called James. John died without leaving a Will. His estate is worth £350,000. After Margaret inherits her £250,000, the estate that is left over is £100,000 and James can have half of this.
If there are no surviving children, grandchildren or great grandchildren of the deceased partner, the whole estate will be inherited by the partner.
Cohabiting partners (sometimes incorrectly called ‘common-law’ partners) who were neither married nor in a civil partnership can’t inherit your estate or any of your personal belongings under the rules of intestacy.
Your cohabiting partner may need to begin court proceedings against those who have inherited the estate, which will most likely be family members.
Unlike natural, adopted or even illegitimate children, stepchildren have no immediate inheritance rights to their stepfather or mother’s assets unless they are specified in a will.
While there are cases where step-parents do not want their stepchildren to inherit a dime of their estate, there are many instances when they do, but without a Will, it is not guaranteed they will receive anything.
For example: John had 2 children with his ex-wife in 1982. After they divorced, the children went to live with their mother. In 1986 he remarried and has lived with second wife Carol, her two children from a former marriage, and their own daughter. John died in 1991 and had an estate worth £500,000. Under the laws of intestacy, his two stepchildren wouldn’t receive a penny from his estate.
Children, or stepchildren named in a Will, can expect to receive their inheritance when they turn 18. A nominated Trustee will look after this inherit until the child turns 18.
The only way you can guarantee a stepchild will receive assets from your estate is to make a Will.
If you have named your ex-husband or ex-wife in a Will and you have divorced, they may be in line to inherit from your estate. The only way to ensure this does not happen is to change your Will.
For example: John married Jane, they were married for 10 years and then divorced. They didn’t have any children or shared assets. While married, Jane was named in John’s Will and was set to inherit the home he owned and all of his personal belongings. Once divorced, John cohabited with his new partner but forgot to remove Jane from his Will. Jane inherited John’s estate as detailed in his Will.
Marriage cancels out any previous will, unless impending nuptials are accounted for when the document is created, so if John married again, Jane wouldn’t have received his estate. Divorce also changes the terms, as someone referred to as husband or wife no longer has that title.
Make sure you keep your Will up to date should circumstances change in your life and you want other people to inherit your estate. If not, the Will details who will receive the assets and they may not be the beneficiaries you wish to receive them.
A Will can be used to protect you from Care Home costs and Inheritance Tax. Joint names on your assets, such as your home, will be passed to the surviving partner and not distributed in a Will. Your estate may be passed to the government if you have no Will or blood relatives.
About The Author
Dominic Mackenzie is the Head of Wills and Probate at Leeds-based law firm, Ison Harrison. If you wish to discuss any of the above or any other matter relating to Wills, Probate, Family Trusts or Care Home fee planning please contact Dominic by calling 0113 284 5000.
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