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The Importance of Leaving a Will

6th April 2023

Around 54% of adults do not have a will and 59% of parents either do not have a will or have one that is out of date. There are many reasons why leaving a will is important. 

What matters in life varies from person to person, and you may think that a will is not important. For example, you don’t have close family or many valuable, prized possessions. 

There are more things you can specify in your will than you may realise. For example, whilst you cannot leave money to your pet you can still provide for them in your will. 

Leslie Ann Mandel, married to the science fiction writer Arthur Herzog, left an estate valued at $5.3m when she died in New York in June 2019. The New York Post reported that Mrs Mandel left specific instructions that the birds should continue to live in the aviary in her $4m property and that her cat and dog should also be taken care of.

US comedian Jack Benny left a very romantic instruction in his will when he died in 1974. “Every day since Jack has gone the florist has delivered one long-stemmed red rose to my home”, his widow, Mary Livingstone, wrote in a magazine shortly after his death.

No will

As well as what you can specify in your will, there are also many misconceptions about what happens where you die without a will. 

For example, your spouse will not automatically inherit all your estate, and a long-term partner to whom you are not legally married may not be entitled to anything. 

If you die without making a will, your estate is distributed in line with the laws of intestacy.  

In the first instance, with no executors named in a will, your next of kin will be required to administer your estate. Not only may they not be the best people for the job, but the job itself could be more complicated and could involve tracking down distant relatives. 

Key facts about the laws of intestacy:

  • Married partners or civil partners inherit under the rules of intestacy only if they 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, you cannot inherit under the rules of intestacy.  

  • Similarly, if a decree absolute has not been issued to finalise a divorce, then your spouse will be entitled to inherit. Spouses who are informally separated can still inherit under the rules of intestacy. Cohabiting partners (sometimes referred to as 'common-law' partners) who were neither legally married nor in a civil partnership cannot inherit under the rules of intestacy.

  • Where there are children and the estate is valued at more than £270,000, the spouse will inherit:
    • all the personal property and belongings of the person who has died, and
    • the first £270,000 of the estate, and
    • half of the remaining estate.

  • If there are no surviving children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren, the 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.

  • The order of priority to inherit is as follows: 
    • the surviving husband or wife
    • the children of the deceased
    • grandchildren of the deceased
    • the father and mother of the deceased
    • whole blood brothers and sisters followed by their children
    • half-blood brothers and sisters followed by their children
    • grandparents
    • uncles and aunts followed by their children 

  • If no living relatives of the deceased are alive then the estate will pass to the crown. 

  • Couples may jointly own their home. There are two different ways of jointly owning a home. These are beneficial joint tenancies and tenancies in common.

  • If the partners were beneficial joint tenants at the time of the death, when the first partner dies, the surviving partner will automatically inherit the other partner's share of the property. However, if the partners are tenants in common, the surviving partner does not automatically inherit the other person's share.

Tracking down distant family members

You may think that if you do not have any close relatives, it is less important to have a will. This could lead to your next of kin having to track down distant family members. In our experience, if there is no immediate family then this can result in an estate being shared between 10 or more cousins and it can be expensive and time consuming to track them all down.

The will should be drafted clearly and without error. This will minimise the risk of dispute or further legal advice being required to decipher the terms.

It is also important that your executors know where the will is stored.

At Bishop Fleming, we can help you to create a tax-efficient way of structuring your will, or help you to administer a deceased’s estate.

Further information

Bishop Fleming’s Estate and Probate team are well equipped to review your personal circumstances, provide you with an estimate of your exposure to inheritance tax and provide advice on mitigating that exposure.

You can find more information on our Estate Planning and Probate Services page.

If you would like to discuss how taxation of the family can impact your decisions, please contact a member of our Estate Planning & Probate team who will be pleased to talk to you.

Watch our Inheritance Tax, Estate Planning & Probate Webinar here.

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