What does intestacy mean?

What Does Intestacy Mean?

In the UK, inheritance is a serious matter. While most plan to leave a legacy, what happens if you pass away without a will? This is where intestacy comes in.

Understanding Intestacy in the UK: The Meaning and Its Impact

Intestacy simply means dying intestate – without a valid will. In such cases, the law, not your wishes, dictates how your estate (everything you own) is handled. The legal process of administering an intestacy estate is called probate.

Why Knowing the Meaning of Intestacy Matters

Many people in the UK underestimate the importance of a will. Intestacy can lead to several issues:

  • Loss of Control: The biggest consequence is the complete lack of control over your assets. The law decides who inherits, not you.
  • Family Disputes: Intestacy rules in England and Wales prioritise blood relatives in a specific order. This can cause arguments among family members, especially with blended families or specific wishes for your belongings.
  • Delayed Inheritance: Probate can be lengthy and expensive. Without a will, it takes longer to settle your affairs, delaying inheritance for loved ones.
  • Potential Omissions: If you have someone you want to inherit something specific, like a friend or charity, they won’t receive anything if you die intestate.
  • Uncertainty for Children: Perhaps most importantly, if you have minor children and die intestate, the court will decide who becomes their guardian. This can lead to a lengthy and stressful process for your loved ones at a difficult time.

What Does Dying Intestate Mean? How the Law Divides Your Estate

Intestacy laws in England and Wales determine how an estate is distributed. Here’s a general breakdown:

  • Spouses Typically Inherit First: Your spouse usually inherits a significant portion, often half or more of the estate.
  • Children Come Next: If you have children, they inherit the remaining estate, usually divided equally. However, if the estate is worth less than £322,000, your spouse inherits the entire estate and your children receive nothing.
  • Extended Family Follows: With no spouse or children, your estate might pass to parents, siblings, nieces, or nephews, depending on the law’s order.
  • Distant Relatives or the Crown: In the absence of close relatives, the estate might go to distant relatives or even the Crown (the government).

Avoiding Intestacy: The Importance of a Will

Having a will is the most effective way to avoid intestacy and ensure your wishes are carried out. Here’s why a will is crucial in the UK:

  • Control Your Assets: A will allows you to clearly state who inherits your belongings and in what proportion.
  • Protect Your Loved Ones: You can use your will to appoint guardians for minor children or designate beneficiaries for specific assets.
  • Minimise Family Conflict: A well-written will reduces the chances of disputes among family members after your passing.
  • Expedite Estate Settlement: A will helps streamline the probate process, ensuring a faster distribution of your assets.

How to Create a Will and Safeguard Your Wishes

Creating a will is a relatively straightforward process in the UK:

  • Gather Information: Make a list of your assets and liabilities. Consider who you want to inherit your belongings and, most importantly, who you want to be the guardian of any minor children.
  • Consult a Solicitor or Will Writer: A solicitor or Will Writer specialising in wills and probate can guide you through the process and ensure your will is legally sound.
  • Clearly State Your Wishes: Outline your beneficiaries, how you want your estate divided, and most importantly, who will be the guardian for your minor children. Be specific about any special considerations.
  • Properly Execute Your Will: Sign your will in the presence of witnesses and have them sign as well. Follow specific requirements for proper execution in the UK.
  • Review and Update Regularly: Review your will periodically, especially after significant life events like marriage, birth of children, or acquiring new assets.

A Typical Example

Whilst the below is fiction, it is something we see at Xwills enough to be a concern!

Sarah, a data analyst with a focus on efficiency, approached life with a practical mindset. Divorced with two teenagers, Ethan and Maya, she managed a comfortable household. Remarriage wasn’t initially a consideration, but when David, a charming entrepreneur, entered the picture, a spark ignited. After a brief engagement, they married. A prenuptial agreement, Sarah believed, was unnecessary – David seemed genuine.

However, three years later, David, citing “irreconcilable differences,” abruptly absconded with a younger colleague. He emptied their joint accounts, leaving Sarah scrambling financially. The legal battle for a portion of the marital assets was lengthy and emotionally draining. Sarah, determined to shield her children from further upheaval, downplayed the situation.

A nagging thought persisted – a will. She intended to create one, outlining the inheritance of her modest savings and small condo to be split equally between Ethan and Maya. However, the press of daily life – work, school events, and the lingering effects of the divorce – pushed the task aside.

Tragically, a sudden illness claimed Sarah a year later. Intestate, without a will, the government applied default inheritance laws. David, still legally Sarah’s husband, became the sole beneficiary. Consumed by grief, Ethan and Maya were blindsided when David, unreachable by phone, never acknowledged their claim.

Months passed. The solicitor Sarah had consulted confirmed David had vanished, leaving no forwarding address or assets. Ethan and Maya, now young adults, were left with nothing but the memories of their childhood home and the lingering resentment of a man who had walked away twice. The inheritance, a source of potential security, was lost.

Sarah’s story served as a stark reminder. Despite good intentions, a lack of legal planning left her children vulnerable. In the cold calculus of the law, a simple document – a will – could have secured their future. Theirs became a cautionary tale, a testament to the unforeseen turns life can take, and the importance of safeguarding loved ones, even in seemingly stable circumstances.

Conclusion: Safeguard Your Legacy, Avoid Intestacy

Intestacy can create unnecessary complications for your loved ones during a difficult time. Taking the time to create a will is an act of love and responsibility. By clearly outlining your wishes, you can ensure your legacy is honoured, your assets are distributed according to your plan, and most importantly, that your minor children are cared for by the person you choose. Don’t leave your wishes to chance. Talk to a one of our advisors specialising in wills today and create a will that reflects your wishes.