The Family

Wills and You: Protecting your Inheritance

I didn’t know too much about wills – I don’t have one yet – but after reading this guest post from David at Coles, I can certainly say, I’ll be looking into getting one written up.

Do you have a Will?

A recent report conducted by the BBC revealed that around 30% of people in the UK do not currently have a will prepared. Working in the legal sector, dealing with daily cases of premature death and the distribution of inheritance, I, and all of my Coles-Law family law colleagues understand precisely what a burden this can be for those left behind.

If you’re reading this, then, and are one of the 7 out of 10 people who are still strolling through life unaware of the risk you’re taking, read on.

Dying without a Will

Now, it might seem like a relatively trivial burden in the face of the loss of a loved one: The sudden realisation that the entire estate of the deceased rests in limbo. In my experience, however, this trivial pain in the behind becomes suddenly relevant as soon as funeral costs, the fair distribution of inheritance and – in the worst cases – the sudden realisation that the deceased’s estate is now in the hands of the State raise their ugly head.

So what will Happen?

The consequences of not preparing a will prior to passing are long, complicated and, of course, specific to circumstance. The effects range in severity depending on several factors: The marital status of the deceased, whether the deceased has children and the number of surviving blood relatives. In order to parse through these cases, then, the inheritance must work their way through one of the most convoluted and infuriating branches of out ever-litigous society: The UK intestacy laws.

As an example, the likely outcome to an unmarried man dying with no surviving blood relatives will in almost all cases end with the inheritance in the pockets of the Crown. In fact, in 2010, the State made a reported ₤53 million from people who died intestate (i.e. without a will), an actual reduction to the ₤73 million made in 2009.

The more blood relatives you factor in, however, the more the outcome becomes convoluted – especially in cases where children are involved.

Dying Intestate as a Parent

If you were to die intestate, married, and survived by a child, then there are many factors to consider. Firstly, who owns the house? Did you purchase it before your wedding? If so, regardless how much of the mortgage your spouse has paid, how many bills, how much of the maintenance; if your spouse is not officially on the deed of the property then the whole value of the property will not pass to the spouse. Only the first ₤250,000 will be given to your partner, while half of the remainder will be given to the child, or shared out among the children. Your spouse would then get a life interest in the remaining half of the estate, i.e., the corresponding half of the amount shared between the children. This means that even though this amount is not immediately tangible, as in it cannot be sold off for money, your spouse would still benefit from any interest it accrues or any other indirect financial benefits this portion of your estate allows. Now, this might not sound like a bad scenario – everyone gets a piece of the pie, right? Well, that is assuming your estate goes beyond the GBP 250,000 mark. If not, your partner would not receive a penny. You’re also given no control about where the fruits of your labour end up. Want to leave something to the neighbour you lived next to for forty years who became just as much a part of the family as your own blood relatives? Or want to leave a little more to the child supporting their family on a low-paying job? Well, without a will – you can’t.

A Real Life Example

Let’s take a look at a real life example in the hope that it will encourage you to think a little more about your own situation.

In 2009, Richard Moore died suddenly, leaving no prepared arrangements and no will to disseminate his estate. Therefore, the decision was left to the State, who followed the Intestacy Laws to the letter, and divided his estate up equally between his two surviving parents. Unfortunately for Mr Moore’s family, however, his father had left him and his family as a child, and Richard never even received as much as a Christmas card from this man who was now granted half of his fortune.  And the tragedy doesn’t end there. It was the onus of Mr Moore’s mother, as the beneficiary of the other half of his fortune, to track down her ex-husband to give him what he was due. Not only this, but Mr Moore’s mother had to cover the entire financial burden herself, including the legal fees incurred. This meant the family had to eventually sell off all of Mr Moore’s possessions – his entire estate, from the home to his CD collection, was sold to cover these fees – all for a man who had been little more than a stranger throughout the life of Richard Moore.

This example is unfortunately not a rare case. Intestate deaths occur on a daily basis, and the story of Mr Moore’s is repeated all too often. It only costs around ₤85 to draft an official will, and you can even pick up DIY packs for around ₤10 in most large book stores.

It is really not worth it to leave it until it is too late. Who knows what will happen tomorrow? Regardless of your age, your job or your financial situation, make sure you decide who gets what after you die.

Hazel Newhouse

Hazel is a mum to 3 daughters and a son, she lives in Bedfordshire with her husband, kids and pets. Hazel has written for various publications, and regularly works alongside popular parenting and gardening brands.

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