Where there's not a Will is there a way?

Insights / / Bristol

Many people don’t plan for what will happen after they die and often assume their possessions will automatically pass to their loved ones. If you die without leaving a Will, the law dictates what should happen to your money, property and belongings (known as your estate) which may not accord with your wishes.

What is a Will and why do I need one?

A Will is a legal document that sets out what happens to your estate after your die. It is essential in order to:

  • a) Ensure that the people you wish to inherit from your estate do so.
  • b) Save your family or friends unnecessary stress during what is already a difficult time.
  • c) Make provisions for specific items, such as a family heirloom, to be kept within the family to be passed on from generation to generation
  • d) Reduce the amount of inheritance tax that may be payable on any money or property you leave behind  
  • e) To choose and guide your executors, being those people who will manage your estate, through the process of probate, in accordance with your wishes

Without a Will, the process is much more complex and can be very time-consuming not to mention more costly. 

A poorly drafted Will can also lead to serious legal consequences, for example, the Will could be deemed invalid. This could mean that either a person’s previous Will would apply, or, where there is no previous Will, the estate would be distributed under a statutory set of rules called the ‘Intestacy Rules’ (see below).

It is therefore vital that you seek specialist legal advice when considering reviewing or creating a Will to ensure it is legally valid and reflects exactly what you intend to happen to your possessions when you are gone. 

If you already have a Will, it is important that it is reviewed regularly. As it may need to be updated following any change in personal circumstances; for example, a will is normally revoked when you marry or form a civil partnership.   

What does ‘Intestacy’ mean?

An individual dies ‘intestate’ if he or she has either: - 
1) Not left a Will at all; 
2) Has left an invalid Will; or 
3) Has not disposed of his/her entire estate by Will. 

When someone dies intestate, the  intestacy rules apply and your estate is distributed to the following people in a rigid order: spouses or civil partners, children/grandchildren, parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

It is important to note that the law currently does not make provisions for co-habitees who are not married or in a civil partnership. If you live with your partner and die without leaving a Will, your partner will not automatically inherit any of your estate.

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