It has been widely reported in the news this week that Aretha Franklin died without making a Will and her Estate is said to be worth in the region of $80 million. As Aretha was a Michigan citizen her Estate will now be distributed as per the rules of that State. Therefore, as she was divorced, it will be distributed between her four sons.
Under English law, if a person dies without a Will they are said to have died ‘intestate’. The intestacy process is similar to the State of Michigan and this can unfortunately lead to problems when the dynamics of the family circle are not straightforward. Not every family member sees eye to eye and with second marriages becoming more prominent, it is becoming more important than ever to make a Will, regardless of how much money they have, to ensure those you wish to benefit from your estate actually do.
Dying without a Will could potentially enable an unintended or disliked family member to inherit or if you have remarried and you have children from a previous marriage you could unknowingly disinherit your own children and leave them with nothing, as your new spouse would be entitled to inherit instead.
What are the current intestacy rules?
As the Law stands today, if you are not married or in a civil partnership, as a surviving partner you do not have any automatic right to inherit. This follows even if you live together and have lived together for a long time.
If you are not married or in a civil partnership but you have children (this includes legally adopted sons and daughters but not stepchildren) they will inherit in equal shares. If one of your children predeceases you then their share will pass to their children in equal shares. This pattern continues through the family bloodline in a set predetermined order until a category of beneficiaries is able to inherit.
If you are married, or in a civil partnership, your spouse will inherit all of your assets up to £250,000 and this includes any property. They will also inherit all of your personal possessions regardless of their value. Your spouse/civil partner will then inherit half of the remainder of your Estate and the remaining half will be distributed between any children of the deceased equally.
If there are no children the spouse/civil partner gets the entire Estate.
The benefits of making a Will
Alternatively, if you choose to get legal advice and proceed to draft a Will which sets out your wishes you could guarantee that those you want to inherit, do inherit and that a spouse/civil partner is also provided for. You can also vary the amount that you wish to gift to each beneficiary and include non family members also.
In addition to that, if you have minor children who could be left parentless after your death, we could put a provision in the Will to appoint a person of your choosing to be that child’s guardian. If you did not include this in your Will, it would be up to the Courts to decide and this can often cause disharmony in the family whilst those closest to you argue over about who should take such a responsibility.
Furthermore, whilst we are assisting you with the preparation of your Will we could also help to advise and guide you about lifetime planning such as Inheritance Tax and Care Home Fees and advise ways in which you could decrease your tax liability upon death.