Do you need to make a will?

If you want to be 100% sure that your possessions are distributed according to your wishes after your death, you need to write a will.
Despite updates to the intestacy laws in October 2014, dying without a will has the potential to cause great problems at a sensitive time.

What if you don't have a will?

If you don’t have a legally binding will in place when you die, your possessions (known as your “estate”) are divided up according to the law of England and Wales.

If there is no surviving spouse/civil partner...

Your estate will be distributed as follows:

  • Divided between any surviving offspring in equal shares (or to their children if they died during your lifetime)
  • If you had no children, the estate is split equally between your parents
  • In the absence of surviving parents, your estate will go to your brothers and sisters (who shared the same two parents as you), or to their children if they died during your lifetime
  • In the absence of surviving brothers or sisters, your estate will go to half brothers or sisters (or to their children if they died during your lifetime)
  • Next in line are your grandparents (equally if more than one)
  • In the absence of surviving grandparents to aunts and uncles (or their children if they died during your lifetime)
  • The last possible relatives with a claim to your estate if you don’t leave a Will are half uncles or aunts, or their children if they died during your lifetime.
  • In the absence of any surviving blood family members, your estate will be passed to the crown (or "the taxman" if you like!)

Unmarried partners

If you aren’t married or in a civil partnership, this means that your partner is not automatically provided for as your possessions are passed to surviving blood relatives in a specified order.  

By far the easiest way to ensure that your loved ones receive your estate as you wish is to write a will and keep it up to date.

Without a valid last will and testament (this is called dying intestate), the only option for a partner who is unmarried or not in a civil partnership is to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975: a slow process at a difficult time.

If you are separated from a spouse or civil partner, but not divorced, they remain first in line to inherit your estate even if they are living with a new partner. Making a will gives you the power to decide who inherits your estate.

New rules from 1st October 2014

The Inheritance and Trustees' Powers Act 2014 updated the law in England and Wales.

For married couples (or couples in a civil partnership) with no children, the surviving partner now inherits their spouse's entire estate. Previously, the additional estate would have been shared between surviving blood relatives in a relatively complex order.

For those with children, the surviving spouse receives £250,000 and half of anything over this amount - rather than just interest on that remainder. Previously, when married couples had children, the surviving spouse was only entitled to interest on their half of anything over £250,000 - with the sum itself given to the children after the surviving spouse died.

As you can see, probate law can be confusing and does not guarantee that your estate is shared as you want if you die intestate. The only way to ensure that your estate is shared as you wish is to have a legally binding will.