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What happens if you die without a will?

What happens if you die without a will?

Apr 7, 2023

Nobody wants to think about their death. However, making provision for those closest to you can give you the peace of mind that your loved ones will be looked after when you’re no longer around.

The best way to ensure your wishes are carried out is to make a will. However, this is an important step that millions of adults have yet to take – leaving their partner, children, and family vulnerable if the worst was to happen.

Writing a will is a fundamental part of a good financial plan. So, read on for some worrying statistics about how more than half of UK adults haven’t secured their loved ones’ future, and for five negative consequences of dying without a will.

More than half of UK adults do not have a will

New research published by MoneyAge has revealed that more than half (51%) of adults in the UK do not currently have a will in place.

Despite an up-to-date will being “the most basic tool in the wealth transfer process”, millions of adults do not have this important document in place.

In addition, of those who do have a will, 43% have not updated it since it was first written. And, of those who have recently lost a partner or spouse, 27% have yet to update their will, while 24% do not have one in place at all.

Commenting on the study, estate planning and IHT technical specialist, Henny Dovland, said: “Having a will and an estate plan means that individuals and families can manage the transfer of wealth more effectively and ensure they don’t pay more Inheritance Tax (IHT) than is necessary.”

If you don’t have a will, here are five potentially negative consequences.

Your assets might not pass to the people you want

If you die without leaving a valid will, your property (or “estate”) will be shared out according to certain rules.

These are called the rules of intestacy. If you die without leaving a will, you are deemed to have died “intestate”.

If you don’t have a will, it restricts the people who can inherit your assets under the rules of intestacy to your spouse or civil partner, and other close relatives.

So, if you have a partner but you’re not married or in a civil partnership (sometimes called a “common-law partner”), they can’t inherit under the rules of intestacy. It means that, if you don’t have a will, your partner may receive none of your assets.

Other people who may not benefit from your estate if you die without a will include:

  • LGBTQ+ partners not in a civil partnership
  • Relations by marriage
  • Close friends
  • Carers.

Additionally, your spouse or civil partner only inherit under the rules of intestacy if you are actually married or in a civil partnership at the time of death. So, if you are divorced or if your civil partnership has been legally ended, they won’t be able to inherit under the rules of intestacy.

If you die and you have surviving children, grandchildren or great grandchildren, and the estate is valued at more than £270,000, your partner will inherit:

  • All your personal property and belongings, and
  • The first £270,000 of the estate, and
  • Half of the remaining estate.

If you have no surviving children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren, your partner will inherit:

  • All the personal property and belongings of the person who has died and
  • The whole of the estate with interest from the date of death.

Writing a will means you can spell out exactly who you would like your assets to pass to when you die.

Your young children could end up with a guardian not of your choosing

Another important aspect of writing a will is that you can nominate guardians for your young children if you die.

If you pass away without making a will you have not legally provided for who your children will live with and who will care for them. This could create distress and arguments in a situation where your child may have lost their parents.

In these circumstances, your children are likely to go to a grandparent or a sibling – and this could result in conflict.

If you write a will and appoint a guardian, you can nominate who you would like to look after your children if you die. It is normally best to confirm that someone is willing to be a guardian before you name them in your will.

You can also write a letter accompanying your will providing advice and guidance to the guardian. You can let the guardian know what is important to you and your children, and how you wish them to be raised.

It can be complex to administer your estate

If you die and you have written a will, your debts become the responsibility of your estate, and the named executors of your will must repay any debts with your assets.

However, when there is no will, the process is more complicated. Your loved ones can still apply for probate, but it is known as a grant of “letters of administration”, which gives them the legal right to administer your estate, including accessing your bank accounts.

This person will need to value the deceased’s assets, including investments, pensions and life insurance, and provide certified documentation when they apply for probate. It can be a complex process and so working with a probate solicitor or accountant can help your next of kin to administer your estate according to the intestacy rules.

Your life insurance may not be paid to your chosen beneficiary

Life insurance can provide valuable support to your family if you pass away.

If you have a will, when one of your loved ones makes a valid claim on your life insurance, the funds are paid into an account held by the executor of your will.

The executor will distribute the money from the estate to the beneficiaries you have identified in your will, once they have grant of probate — along with paying any debts or other liabilities.

If you died without a will, the process is slightly more complicated. Here, your life insurance will be paid out in line with the rules of intestacy.

This means that your unmarried partner may not receive any of your life insurance proceeds.

Writing a will and putting your life insurance in trust are two simple ways of ensuring the payout passes to your beneficiary (or beneficiaries) of choice.

Your loved ones may pay more Inheritance Tax

Inheritance Tax (IHT) is payable on the value of your estate that exceeds the nil-rate band.

In 2023/24 you benefit from a nil-rate band of £325,000. Additionally, if you leave your main residence to a child or grandchild, you can benefit from the “residence nil-rate band” of £175,000.

So, you could leave £500,000 to your loved ones before IHT is due.

Making a will can help you reduce the amount of Inheritance Tax that might be payable on the value of the assets and property you leave behind. For example, you might decide to leave some of your assets to charity, and this can help you to reduce a potential IHT bill.

In addition, leaving your home to a child or grandchild in a will ensures you benefit from the residence nil-rate band.

Get in touch

Life insurance can help you to provide financial support to your spouse, partner, children, grandchildren or family if you pass away.

We can help you to find the right life insurance for your needs – and can help you to put it in trust so it passes to your chosen beneficiaries when you die.

Get a life insurance quote now, or speak to one of our experts to find out more.

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