Earlier today I appeared on Daybreak, alongside Holby City actress Tina Hobley, to talk about the importance of making a will. You can view the discussion here.
It is a cause for concern that 56 per cent of adults in the UK have not written a will. As a family lawyer, I have encountered the injustices that can occur if one partner dies intestate (without a will), or if a deceased partner’s will makes insufficient provision for his or her dependents. The Intestacy Rules will apply to a married couple or a couple in a civil partnership, but their application may not be what you would want. Similarly they arent tax effective. Given Inheritance Tax is levied at 40% on an estate over £325k, it makes sense to make a will that will circumvent as far as possible that hefty charge.
If an unexpected death occurs, say a road accident, the deceased may have left behind not just one family but two and it isnt unknown for there to be other children and dependents besides, and there will be a number of competing claims for the estate. Without a sensible will and life insurance to cover the liabilities he has been meeting, (including tax on the estate) financial disaster can loom large for those left behind. An application may be made to the court under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 but the legal costs involved too can decimate the estate.
The number of cohabiting couples in the UK rose by 292,000 between 2001 and 2011. Last year a survey found that when it comes to property and finances, a fifth of people believe cohabiting couples have equal rights to married couples. As readers of this blog know, that is far from being the case! I have written previously about what can happen when there is no marriage and no will. In short there is no automatic entitlement to inherit unless you are married or in a civil partnership. So, you could end up with nothing unless you contest the estate.
Change is in the air. The Law commission has recommended sweeping changes and towards the end of last year, the House of Lords debated key aspects of the Inheritance (Cohabitants) Bill, a private member’s bill that proposes significant changes to the rights of cohabitants if their partner dies. As it stands, however, too few people know that if they are unmarried and their partner dies intestate, their automatic entitlement is nothing.
A final note: even if you are or have been married, and you have made a will, you may wish to acquaint yourself with the judgment in the case of Lilleyman v Lilleyman (2012). Mr Lilleyman bequeathed almost the entirety of his estate to his children from a previous marriage. Then his widow made an application to the Chancery Court for financial provision, claiming her reasonable needs had not been met. It is essential when making a will to consider all possibilities, and with good legal and financial advise, ensure that when a death does occur, you havent created more problems for your grieving loved ones.
For further information about making a will, GOV.UK provides a thorough guide here.