Having a properly thought-out will means that you can say who gets what. Most people aren’t aware that if they die without a will, the laws of England and Wales provide ‘back up’ rules, known as the intestacy rules. These intestacy rules may suit your circumstances, but there’s a fair chance that they won’t.
If, when you die, you are survived by a spouse or civil partner, they will receive everything; but this will be limited to £270,000 if you also have children who survive you. In such a case, your spouse or civil partner will receive your personal possessions, £270,000 outright and then half the balance outright. Your children share the other half between them. If a child has died before you, then their children stand in their place.
With house prices always rising, it isn’t hard for half the house to be worth more than £270,000, so you could have leave your spouse or civil partner dealing with a situation where the children, at the age of 18, force a sale of the house to get their money.
If you die without children or grandchildren, your spouse or civil partner will indeed receive everything, but only in those circumstances.
Your children will receive everything if you die without a spouse or civil partner. Bear in mind that, where couples live together and regard themselves as common law spouses, this means nothing under the intestacy rules. Unless they are married or in a registered civil partnership, the partner receives nothing. If you don’t have children, then it’s your parents who benefit, and still your partner receives nothing.
It can become very complicated if you die without a spouse or civil partner, children or parents, as siblings (and their children in the case of a deceased sibling) start to benefit. It then moves down through grandparents, uncles and aunts and finally, if there’s no one, it goes to the Crown.
It is far better to take professional advice and have a carefully thought-out will, which provides for the people you want to provide for in the way you want. Is 18 a good age for your children to receive large sums of money or will they disappear off to the pub with it? You should also choose who deals with your estate on your death and makes sure that the money goes to those intended people.
In the case of blended families with children from a first marriage and a second spouse, careful thought is needed to provide for often conflicting needs. Trusts can be used in these situations, but only if you have a will which includes them. The intestacy rules aren’t designed to cover such complicated situations adequately; they are a back-up and do not always provide the outcome you would want.
So do take advice on your will from a qualified person and make the provision you want, in the way you want for the people you want.