Stay Alert to the contents of your Will
An up-to-date and validly executed Will is the only way you can determine how your wealth and assets are distributed when you are gone. However, surveys indicate that only around half of adults actually have a Will in place.
If you do not have a Will, your Will is invalid, or your Will is out of date, there is a risk of a range of unexpected or unwelcome outcomes arising on your death.
When a person dies without a Will, either because they never prepared one or because their Will is invalidly executed, the Intestacy rules will apply.
Under the Intestacy rules, estates are distributed according to a strict formula, which can lead to some extraordinary outcomes, even for relatively uncomplicated estates.
For instance, under the rules, an estranged spouse could get everything, or at least the bulk of an estate, while a cohabiting partner would usually be left with nothing at all.
Similarly, the Intestacy rules prioritise full relations over half relations, irrespective of whether those differences are actually meaningful to you.
The Intestacy rules also do not take Inheritance Tax (IHT) into consideration, meaning your estate could be taxed substantially more than is actually necessary.
The only way you can prevent the blunt instrument of the Intestacy rules from determining how your estate is distributed is to have a validly executed Will in place.
However, it is still possible for unexpected outcomes to arise following a person’s death, even if they do have a validly executed Will in place.
This is most likely to happen in circumstances where a person’s most recent Will was prepared some time before their death and their circumstances have changed subsequently.
This could be because a marriage has ended, a beneficiary has died or they have embarked upon a new relationship.
Moreover, a Will ceases to be valid upon each new marriage, which could leave children from a previous marriage with little or nothing, subject to the proviso that they might be entitled to an amount necessary for their maintenance, irrespective of the provisions of a Will.
The best way to achieve peace of mind that your wishes will be adhered to after your death is to review your Will after any change in your personal circumstances or the Inheritance Tax rules.
Given that one or the other is likely to take place reasonably frequently, you should, as a rule of thumb, revisit your Will every one to two years, consulting with a solicitor if you are in any doubt.
Linsey Graham, a Probate Practitioner with Mander Hadley who specialises in Wills, said: “To help people consider what they may wish to include in a Will, we have put together a free guide which is available to download from our website.
“We have also made it easier for people to start the ball rolling, by providing a portal which will help them to begin the Will-making process online.
“Because a Will is not a ‘one size fits all’ document but is written to meet the specific needs of each individual client, it cannot be drafted solely on the information provided via the portal but it does provide an excellent starting point and helps our team to understand a person’s needs in advance of taking detailed instructions.”