Changes in Intestacy Rules Merely Highlight the Importance of Writing a Will

6th February 2020

Putting off writing your Will manages to be simultaneously understandable and irresponsible. Understandable because facing up to our own mortality is hard and irresponsible, because you risk dying without a Will.

This is technically referred to as dying intestate and it can affect how the estate you leave behind is divided. The rules governing intestacy are to change from 6th February 2020, but the fact will remain that without a Will there is no automatic right to your estate, for the people you share your life with.

This is the case whether you’re married to another person, engaged in a civil partnership or simply co-habiting. In the first two instances the rules on intestacy limit the proportion of your estate which can be left to the other person, while the surviving member of a cohabiting couple will not be entitled to anything – unless such provisions have been set out in a valid Will.

Time to make a Will

In the absence of a Will, from 6th February this year the proportion of the estate which passes directly to a spouse or civil partner will be rising from £250,000 to £270,000. It may seem like a lot, but the state of the UK property market means many who die intestate often leave a home worth far more.

Under the rules, half of anything over the new £270,000 limit, will be divided amongst any children of the deceased, which could lead to the family home having to be sold to realise the sum in question.

The risk of arguments arising over the division of an estate increases significantly when someone dies intestate because their personal wishes have not been officially recorded.

The situation is particularly fraught for any surviving partner in a relationship which wasn’t a marriage or civil partnership. You may have lived with a person for several decades, but if they die without making a Will then you have no automatic rights to the estate they leave behind.

Under the rules of intestacy, assets automatically pass to any children of the deceased. If there are no children, the assets pass to the parents of the deceased, but if they have died the process works along an increasingly distant line of relatives, until if none are found the estate passes to the Crown.

It’s possible to take legal action to try to prove that you should get something from your late partner’s estate, but it is difficult and can be a time-consuming process, at a time of grief at the loss of a life partner.

Remove the risk with a Will

It is clear that writing a valid Will is the only responsible course of action to take, given the consequences that can follow, particularly in the event of sudden, tragic loss.

Writing a Will gives you and your loved ones the peace of mind of knowing exactly how your estate will be divided. In some cases, it can also ensure that with professional advice you can legally mitigate Inheritance Tax (IHT), which is impacting increasing numbers of estates.

Due in no small part to the rise in property prices in recent decades, what once seemed a modest family home in London for example, may now be an asset worth more than a million pounds. A Will written correctly can mitigate the impact of IHT and save those left behind, many thousands of pounds in tax.

The gift that keeps giving

From lessening the sting of IHT and avoiding family feuds all the way to leaving a small bequest to your favourite charity, writing a Will to avoid dying intestate is the last gift you can give to yourself and the people you love.

Taking expert legal advice will ensure that the document in question is valid and has been signed, dated and witnessed in the correct manner, to help avoid it being challenged later. When the full impact of dying intestate is considered, the prospect of writing a Will suddenly becomes much less daunting.

If you have not written your Will or indeed not reviewed a Will you signed many years ago, please get in touch. We will advise on appointing an executor for your Will and recommend how often you should review your Will – an essential part of the process, that allows you to amend it to reflect life-changing events like marriage, divorce or the birth of children and grandchildren.

Please contact Sarah Nash, our head of Wills, Probate and Trusts direct on 01543 267981 or email her at