Dying without a valid will is called “dying intestate” or in a state of “intestacy”. Around a third of people in the United Kingdom die intestate and this can lead to a huge amount of suffering and extra expense for family members and loved ones.

There is a common misconception that surviving relatives decide how an estate should be divided but this is not the case. There are strict rules that determine how an estate is managed and who gets what. In some cases, this can mean that the money goes to the government. Having a fully legal will is the only way to guarantee that doesn’t happen.

If you are married or in a civil partnership, the first beneficiary will be the surviving partner, but they will not necessarily inherit the whole estate and the inheritance is dependent on which blood relatives survive the deceased.

Major problems can occur for unmarried couples as the surviving partner won’t automatically have a claim in the way that a married partner would. The process for claiming can be slow and there is no guarantee of success. Similarly, if you are separated but not divorced from a spouse, they will still have an automatic claim to your estate unless you specify otherwise in a valid will.

Step children and illegitimate children can also complicate the picture in the absence of a last will and testament

Remember to update your will or create a new one when your circumstances change, inform your family and friends when you change your will and be sure to let them know where your signed will is stored. This has to be the original document.