Everybody should have a Will

Natalie Wright, solicitor with Sills & Betteridge, explains the importance of having a Will and why it should be prepared by a qualified professional.

Having a Will prepared is often something we know we should do but which we put off either because we are too busy or because we do not want to think about our own mortality. However, if you die without a Will it can often have complex and fraught consequences for the loved ones you have left behind.

The main reasons why you should have a Will are:

  • To specify who you wish to inherit your money and other assets when you die;
  • To appoint the people you want to sort everything out for you after you have died (your “executors”);
  • To appoint guardians for your minor children; and
  • To let your family know if you have any particular wishes for your funeral.

Depending on the complexity of your estate, a Will can also be used for protecting assets such as the family home in the future and can also minimise inheritance tax implications on death.

Everybody’s circumstances are different and you will all have varying wishes for what will happen after your death. This is why it is important that your Will is tailored to your own circumstances. When a Will is prepared by Sills & Betteridge we will meet with you and discuss your wishes, assets and personal circumstances. We will then advise you on what should be included in the Will to ensure that your wishes are achieved and we will draft the Will in accordance with your instructions. Once you are happy with the Will we will meet you again to ensure that it is properly signed and witnessed.

The law surrounding Wills is complex and we can ensure all the formalities are complied with. A Will is a document that only comes into effect when you die. Unfortunately, many cases where unexpected consequences and upset arise are due to a poorly drafted Will. When a Will has been badly drafted, it may be too late to rectify any problems by the time they have come to light. Where problems can be fixed, the cost of putting matters right will far exceed the cost of a Will.

The consequences of dying without a Will can be disastrous and will be at a time when a protracted dispute is the last thing a family needs. I feel passionately that all adults should have a Will in place as it is one thing that we can all do to try to lessen the grief that inevitably follows on the death of a loved one.

Meet Natalie

Natalie is a local girl, having grown up in Gainsborough. She graduated with a law degree from the University of Hull in 2012. During her degree she studied at the University of Utrecht in The Netherlands. She came to Sills & Betteridge in 2013 to support its Conveyancing team. The firm immediately realised that it had a young woman of drive and ambition.

When an opportunity came up to work as a paralegal in the intense and demanding Commercial Litigation Department in Lincoln Natalie relished the challenge. There she realised that to succeed in the incredibly demanding legal world she would need to pass the Legal Practice Course and qualify as a solicitor. She therefore took herself back to University and passed her solicitor’s exams (with a distinction) in 2015. Having done so, she returned to Lincolnshire and fought off huge competition to be offered a Training Contract with Sills & Betteridge. During that Training Contract she realised that Wills, Trusts and Probate was the area for her. Her aim had always been to work as a qualified Solicitor in Gainsborough.

Shortly after qualification, Natalie was offered the role as solicitor in the Wills, Trusts and Probate department in our Gainsborough Office. She jumped at the opportunity and, with her approachable manner and sound advice at what can be a most difficult time, she has fulfilled the position admirably. Natalie has been praised by clients for her ability to balance a sympathetic ear with robust legal advice. She manages her own team now and provides a strength of knowledge and professionalism which has taken the team up a gear in terms of the service the firm offers to its clients in Gainsborough and the surrounding area. In recognition of her hard work and reputation Natalie was named as a runner up in the prestigious LN2 Business Person of the Year Awards in 2018.

What happens if you do not make a Will?

A recent survey has shown that nearly two thirds of the adult population in the UK do not have a Will. When you die without having made a Will you are known as being “intestate”. The law then dictates how your assets will be divided. There may be specific people who you want to inherit your estate and specific people who you definitely don’t want to inherit anything. However, without a Will, the opposite could happen.

There is no provision for anyone who is not married to the deceased or in a civil partnership with them or a blood relative to inherit an estate under the rules of intestacy. Even if you’re the very best friend of the deceased or have been in a relationship with them for the past twenty years but not married or in a civil partnership, you will not be entitled to inherit anything, whereas a distant cousin who has never even met the deceased may be entitled to inherit.

If you and your spouse have divorced or ended your civil partnership, then you also do not inherit. However, if you have only separated but are still legally married or in a civil partnership then you can still inherit, even if you haven’t spoken to each other for years.

If there are no surviving children, grandchildren or great grandchildren, but there is a surviving spouse or civil partner then the spouse or civil partner inherits the entire estate irrespective of its value.

This probably seems relatively straightforward so far, but after this it starts to get more complicated. In situations where there is a surviving spouse or civil partner AND surviving children or grandchildren AND the estate is valued at more than £250,000, then the spouse or civil partner inherits all the deceased person’s personal belongings and the first £250,000 of the estate (together with interest on that sum). The remainder of the estate is then divided in to two equal shares. One share passes to the surviving spouse or civil partner with the remaining half passing to the deceased’s children (or grandchildren).

If there is no surviving married or civil partner, the children of the deceased inherit the whole estate. If there are two or more children, the estate is divided equally between them. Minors can generally only inherit once they reach the age of 18. Grandchildren and great grandchildren inherit only if their parent or grandparent has died before the intestate person, and thereby inherit what their parent or grandparent would have inherited.

In scenarios where there are no surviving spouses or civil partners, children, grandchildren or great grandchildren, then the estate passes in order to parents, brothers and sisters, or to nieces and nephews. If the intestate person didn’t have any of these survive them, then it next passes to grandparents, uncles and aunts and cousins, and again the rules can be quite complicated surrounding this.

Finally, if there is no surviving relative that is eligible to inherit the estate, then that estate still does not pass to an unmarried partner or longstanding best friend, but instead goes to the Crown. The Treasury Solicitor becomes responsible for dealing with the estate in a situation called bona vacantia.

In summary then, if you want specific people (including unmarried partners, friends, even carers) to inherit your money and other assets then you need to make sure you leave a Will. Otherwise, the outcome is that your estate will be distributed in a very bureaucratic and complicated way.

Sills & Betteridge have an experienced, knowledgeable and dedicated Wills, Trusts and Probate team. We can help to ensure that your Will

fully reflects your wishes and intentions. A member of our team will prepare your Will for you, discussing with you who should deal with your affairs when you die, who should benefit from your assets (including how and when), how you might minimize any potential inheritance tax liability and, where appropriate, appoint a guardian for your children.

For more information, please contact Natalie Wright or Laura Darley on 01427 616816, email us on NWright@sillslegal. co.uk, or call into our office in Marshall’s Yard.

Not married? Who inherits?

Recent research carried out by the insurance company Direct Line showed that 38% of cohabiting couples living in the UK were unsure what their rights would be should their partner pass away without leaving a Will, and that one in ten cohabiting couples wrongly believed that they would be automatically entitled to inherit their partner’s share of any property that they lived in together.

However, this is not the case. A surviving partner Will only inherit if this is stated in the deceased partner’s Will. This can come as an extremely nasty surprise to some people who are already mourning following the loss of their loved one, sometimes after many years of living together. This is a big problem because the number of unmarried people in the UK who have made a Will is substantially less than the number of married people. More than half of married people living in the UK have drawn up a Will, whereas with unmarried people who live with a partner the figure is only 26%.

With this in mind, why do so few unmarried couples make a Will? A key part of the problem is probably the frequently held (but incorrect) belief that the terms “common law” husband or wife have legal standing, and that this will be good enough to ensure they inherit should their partner die. Unfortunately for unmarried couples that is not the case. Being in a so called “common law” partnership will not give couples any legal protection whatsoever.

So, what does this mean in practice? When anybody passes away without leaving a Will, the “rules of intestacy” apply. In effect this means that the blood relatives of the person who has passed away will be the beneficiaries of their estate (even if they weren’t on speaking terms, hadn’t seen each other for years or didn’t even know each other), and the surviving partner, who might have lived with the deceased for many years, receives nothing.

The only option that is then available to the remaining partner is for them to bring a formal claim through the courts for an Order making a reasonable provision for the surviving partner. This can be a complicated, expensive and long, drawn out procedure, and something that many remaining partners don’t want to do so soon after losing their loved one.

If you are in a relationship but are not married, then you need to take steps to ensure that your partner will inherit should you pass away, and vice-versa. This, at the very least, involves both of you making a Will, and may involve putting other measures in place too.

Sills & Betteridge has an experienced, knowledgeable and dedicated Wills, Trusts and Probate team which includes full members of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) and the Association of Contentious Trust and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS). We can help to ensure that your Will fully reflects your wishes and intentions or help you to make a claim if you are a dependant who has been left without reasonable financial provision following a death.

For more information, please contact Natalie Wright or Laura Darley on 01427 616816, email us on NWright@sillslegal. co.uk, or call into our office in Marshall’s Yard.

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