The rules around people dying intestate, or without a will, have changed from 1st October 2014.
The biggest changes affect the immediate family of people who are married or in a civil partnership and die without having made a will.
There are a number of key changes to the rules.
Couples with no children
Previously, in the case of couples with no children, the spouse or partner would inherit the first £450,000 of the estate plus interest, and half of any remaining value and the deceased person’s personal property, known as chattels. The remainder would then go to any surviving blood relatives such as parents or siblings.
Now the entire estate passes to the surviving spouse or civil partner.
Couples with children
In the case of couples with children, previously the spouse or civil partner would take the first £250,000 of the estate and all the deceased’s chattels. They would also have what’s known as a ‘life interest’ in half of any remaining balance, where they are entitled to use a property or use an income for their rest of their life. The children would take the other half.
Now, the spouse or civil partner still receives the first £250,000 of the estate and all the deceased’s chattels, but will now also receive half of any remaining amount as a cash sum upfront, with the rest still going to the children.
Personal property or chattels
As these laws haven’t been revised since 1925, there are plenty of archaic descriptions of what chattels might be included, such as carriages and scientific instruments.
The new laws now define chattels as “anything that is not monetary, business assets or held as an investment”. Experts say the latter definition is too ambiguous and could lead to arguments among families as to what is an investment.
The importance of making a will
While these changes are an improvement, they still don’t eliminate the need to make a will if you want to ensure your estate goes to certain people. This is obviously especially true if you’re not married or in a civil partnership or if you have partners or children from other relationships.
Making a will also means your family isn’t left dealing with paperwork of intestacy after your death, trying to second guess your wishes. In addition there’s the prospect of your loved ones paying inheritance tax on your estate if you haven’t planned properly.
Roughly about a third of people die without a will.