There are lots of myths and common misconceptions around wills and inheritance in the UK. We’ve outlined the top four that we come across in practice:
1. I’m married – everything will go to my husband or wife
Perhaps surprisingly, this is not necessarily true. If you pass away without a will (known as ‘intestate’) and all of your possessions (your ‘estate’) are worth less than £250,000; then your spouse will in fact receive everything.
However, if your estate is worth more than £250,000, then the situation will be different – depending on whether or not you have any children. If you do have a child or children, your spouse will receive assets up to £250,000 as well as your possessions, any assets that you owned jointly (such as a joint bank account) and what’s known as a ‘life interest’ in half of anything that’s left over.
Your spouse will not be permitted to dispose of anything contained in this half share – which can include cash, shares or property. However, they will be entitled to any income generated by it. The remaining half will be split equally between your children once they reach 18, and your spouse’s share will pass to them on his/her death.
If you die without leaving any children, different rules will apply, depending on whether or not you have any surviving brothers or sisters.
2. I live with my partner – everything will automatically pass to them
Unfortunately not. Being married (as you can see from the example above) does provide some protection to a surviving spouse.
However, there’s no such thing as a ‘common law wife’ (or husband), so it’s really important to make a will if you want your partner to benefit from your estate if you die before they do. If you don’t make a will, you will die intestate and your estate will pass according to rules set out by the law. These rules cannot be altered and will apply regardless of your partner’s needs. In the circumstances they would also need to consider bringing a claim against the estate for reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975. These claims however can be expensive and should be avoided wherever possible.
3. I don’t have much to leave so there’s no point making a will
Ultimately it’s your choice whether or not to make a will, but in fact, your affairs may be more complicated than you think.
Even if you have very few assets, you may have a pension, life assurance and personal belongings with sentimental value. A will provides certainty for your family that they are acting in accordance with your wishes when it comes to sorting out your affairs.
In addition, dealing with the death of a spouse, partner or close family member is difficult enough for everyone, without the additional stresses of trying to second-guess somebody’s wishes after they’ve gone.
A properly drafted will also enables you to appoint guardians for your children if you die before they are 18, and to set out your wishes for your funeral and many other matters that may be important to you.
4. I don’t want a solicitor as my executor
Again, this is a commonly held misconception. You can choose whoever you want to be your executor (the person who handles your will), and the only requirement is that they are 18 or above. You can also nominate more than one person, and they don’t all have to accept the appointment.
You are still able to leave gifts to executors; this won’t prevent them from acting on your behalf. You will need to give some thought to who you would want to handle your affairs, and it may be that you choose to name a solicitor in addition to somebody you trust.
Because there is no requirement on executors to take up the appointment, some people like to include a solicitor, just in case the other executor decides they don’t want to take up the appointment, or feels too upset to handle your affairs. Ultimately though, it’s your choice who you appoint.
Creating a will should make things easier for your family and those close to you at what is a very stressful and upsetting time. Further, a properly drafted will helps to ensure that your wishes are fulfilled, and that the people you care about are taken care of after you’ve gone.
If you would like more information about creating a will, please do not hesitate to contact us. At Farleys, we know that making a will can be a difficult experience. However, our team is specially trained to help make the process as quick and stress-free as possible.