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Where there’s a will, there’s a way

Nobody likes to think of the inevitable, which is probably why so many people have not made a last will and testament. Making a will is probably one of the most important things you could ever do for your family or co-habiting partner.

Almost half of our retired population die intestate – without a will – according to the Association of Retired Persons Over 50. Sadly, this causes huge problems for friends and family at an already difficult time.

Whether you are young or old, you could help spare your loved ones further distress and ensure your finances go to the right people.

If you fail to leave a will, your estate will be distributed according to a set formula. Here is a brief guide to the principles involved in intestacy.

Husband, wife and children  Married couples assume that if one of them dies the spouse will inherit everything. This is not always so. Without a will, the surviving spouse will only inherit the first £125,000 worth of assets and the excess must be divided between the spouse and the children.

Husband and wife with no children 

Where there are no children, a spouse would be entitled to the first £200,000. The excess over £200,000 is to be divided between the surviving spouse and specified members of your spouse’s family. This means the surviving partner may not even inherit the whole of the house he or she lives in.

If both husband and wife die within a very short time of each other, say in an accident, then the whole process becomes a lottery as to whose family members will inherit the whole of the two estates. Even if the deaths are only a few minutes apart, the family of the last one to survive will take everything. If it is not possible to establish who actually died first, then it is assumed that the older died first, leaving the younger spouse’s family to inherit the whole of the joint estate.

Co-habiting couples A couple who are living together but not married are in a somewhat precarious position. Rules of intestacy do not recognise common law partners. The deceased’s family will have first call on his/her estate and the survivor of the couple will only have a right to claim an interest in the estate through the courts if the survivor can show financial dependence on the deceased. The surviving partner could end up with absolutely nothing.

No family

Without any remaining family or spouse, your estate will go the Crown- ie the Treasury. In this situation, a will can specify that your estate is to go to friends or to a charity instead.

Producing a legal will is pretty straightforward. You can draft a basic one yourself from a template bought at many local newsagents and post offices, or from a book by a reputable organisation.

The trouble is that any mistakes may cause complications for your family later if the will is disputed or you have complicated family relationships, such as second or third families. In this case, do-it-yourself wills are not normally recommended. If you do choose this route, of course it would be possible to employ a solicitor to look over it to verify that it has been done correctly.

The other way to ensure your estate is left as you wish is to draft a will with a solicitor or reputable specialist will-writing agency. This could cost as little as £60 for a single person or £100 for a couple. Seek a few quotes first.

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