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What happens to my estate if I do not make a Will?

I have been asked this question many times. And more often than not, people are surprised when I tell them the answer.

If you die without a valid Will, the Intestacy Rules determine who receives your estate and how much they receive. It depends on (a) who survives you and (b) how much money you have.

Your estate will be distributed differently depending on whether your husband, wife or civil partner has survived you, and whether or not you have any children. The effect of the Intestacy Rules may not be what you envisaged and they may not make adequate financial provision for your surviving spouse or civil partner.

For instance, your spouse or civil partner does not automatically inherit the whole of your estate. The amount that your spouse or civil partner inherits depends on whether you have any children. If you have no children, your surviving parents or siblings may inherit some of your estate alongside your spouse or civil partner (depending on the value of your estate).

In addition, a surviving partner who wasn't married to you or wasn't in a civil partnership with you has no automatic right to inherit your estate under the Intestacy Rules, even if you have lived together for many years.

The Intestacy Rules have not been amended for many years, but they are now going to change. This is following the Inheritance and Trustees' Powers Act 2014 which recently received Royal Assent on 14th May 2014. This new law is due to come into force later this year on 1st October 2014. I will be writing about some of the changes being made in the near future, so keep checking our blog pages for future updates.

The point I am making is that it is not advisable to rely on the Intestacy Rules to determine who inherits your estate. The only way to ensure that your estate is left to your desired beneficiaries is to make a valid Will.

Making a Will also gives you the opportunity to appoint suitable people as your Executors. If you have young children, you can appoint Guardians for them. You can leave your personal belongings to whoever you want. You may also wish to leave specific gifts of money to certain family members, friends or charities. There will probably be other matters to consider which you had not thought about before, which we can advise about and assist you with.