‘I really must get around to writing a will!’ I have heard that refrain from several wealthy individuals recently and it’s often easy to assume that everyone who should have a will knows that and has one. But such assumptions are dangerous.
I am constantly surprised by who doesn’t have a will. However, the surprise works both ways because those who haven’t made a will are usually amazed to learn from me how the intestacy rules will operate on their death if they don’t make one.
Time for a quick refresher, then, on some of the more challenging aspects of the UK’s intestacy rules. These rules can apply to English domiciled individuals in respect of all their assets or non UK domiciled individuals in respect of their UK real estate:
In practice, the harshness of the intestacy rules is often softened because jointly owned assets, such as the matrimonial home, usually pass automatically to the surviving spouse/partner as a result of the law of survivorship and therefore the intestacy rules do not bite on them. However, it’s not a great idea to rely on it as there can be evidential difficulties. Also, dying without a will means that no one is in charge of the assets from the moment of death – a ‘rudderless estate’ ensues until an administrator is appointed by the Probate Registry but that can take a little while. This can prove very traumatic for families at what is already a very difficult time – who wants to hand their family that kind of problem?
In contrast, dying with a will naming an executor means that someone is in charge the moment that death occurs. As well as bringing certainty of direction at a difficult time, this can prove immensely useful when it comes to managing certain assets such as family company shares or investment portfolios, which cannot be left to drift until the grant is obtained several months later.
Put simply: if you love someone enough to want to leave them assets, please make a will.