Why you need to make a will

Updated: 
It's easy to put off making a will. But do you know what would happen if you died suddenly without a will? Who would inherit your house, car and other belongings?

Your assets would be allocated according to the law rather than your wishes. This could mean that some of your money goes to family members you always hated. Did you know that unmarried couples with no kids could see their parents inherit rather than each other?


There are lots of good reasons for making a will:
• You decide how your assets are shared out
• If you aren't married or in a civil partnership (whether or not it's a same sex relationship) your partner will not inherit automatically - so by drawing up a will you can make sure your partner is provided for
• If you're divorced or if your civil partnership has been dissolved you can decide whether to leave anything to an ex-partner who's living with someone else
• You can reduce the amount of inheritance tax you pay
• You can reduce the stress for your family when you die because it will take longer to sort out your affairs if you don't have a will

So who inherits if you don't have a will?
If you don't have a will there are rules for deciding who inherits your assets. The following rules apply to England and Wales. The law differs if you die intestate (without a will) in Scotland or Northern Ireland. The rates that applied before 1 February 2009 are shown in brackets.

If you're married or in a civil partnership and there are no children
The husband, wife or civil partner won't automatically get everything although they will receive:
• personal items, such as household articles and cars, but nothing used for business purposes
• £450,000 (£200,000) free of tax - or the whole estate if it was less than £450,000 (£200,000)
• half of the rest of the estate

The other half of the rest of the estate will be shared by the following:
• surviving parents
• if there are no surviving parents, any brothers and sisters (who shared the same two parents as the deceased) will get a share (or their children if they died while the deceased was still alive)
• if the deceased has none of the above, the husband, wife or registered civil partner will get everything

If you're married or in a civil partnership and there are children
Your husband, wife or civil partner won't automatically get everything, although they will receive:

• personal items, such as household articles and cars, but nothing used for business purposes
• £250,000 (£125,000) free of tax - or the whole of the estate if it was less than £250,000 (£125,000)
• a life interest in half of the rest of the estate (on his or her death this will pass to the children)

The rest of the estate will be shared by the children.

If you are in a relationship but not married or in a civil partnership
If you aren't married or registered civil partners, you won't automatically get a share of your partner's estate if they die without making a will.

If they haven't provided for you in some other way, your only option is to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. More below.

If there is no surviving spouse/civil partner
The estate is distributed as follows:
• to surviving children in equal shares (or to their children if they died while the deceased was still alive)
• if there are no children, to parents (equally, if both alive)
• if there are no surviving parents, to brothers and sisters (who shared the same two parents as the deceased), or to their children if they died while the deceased was still alive
• if there are no brothers or sisters then to half brothers or sisters (or to their children if they died while the deceased was still alive)
• if none of the above then to grandparents (equally if more than one)
• if there are no grandparents to aunts and uncles (or their children if they died while the deceased was still alive)
• if none of the above, then to half uncles or aunts (or their children if they died while the deceased was still alive)
• to the Crown if there are none of the above

You can check who inherits if there's no will by using this interactive tool on the HMRC inheritance tax website.

If you feel you've not received reasonable financial provision
You may be able to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 - applicable in England and Wales. To make a claim you must have a particular type of relationship with the deceased, such as child, spouse, civil partner, dependant or cohabitee.

Bear in mind that if you were living with the deceased as a partner but weren't married or in a civil partnership, you'll need to show that you've been 'maintained either wholly or partly by the deceased' - this can be difficult to prove if you've both contributed to your life together.

You need to make a claim within six months of the date of the Grant of Letters of Administration. This is quite a complicated area and a claim may not succeed. It's advisable to ask a solicitor's advice. They charge for this service.

Inheritance Tax and your will
If you leave everything to your husband, wife or civil partner
In this case there usually won't be any Inheritance Tax to pay because a husband, wife or civil partner counts as an 'exempt beneficiary'. But bear in mind that their estate will be worth more when they die, so more Inheritance Tax may have to be paid then.

However, if you are domiciled (have your permanent home) in the UK when you die but your spouse or civil partner isn't you can only leave them £55,000 tax-free.

Other beneficiaries
You can leave up to £325,000 tax-free to anyone in your will, not just your spouse or civil partner (tax year 2010-2011). So you could, for example, give some of your estate to someone else or a family trust. Inheritance Tax is then payable at 40 per cent on any amount you leave above this.

UK Charities
Inheritance Tax isn't payable on any money or assets you leave to a registered UK charity - these transfers are exempt.

The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) offers advice on how to make a will. As well as making a will, you can use a family trust to pass on your assets in the way you want to.

Related stories
Over 30 million Brits don't have a will
Who will benefit from your inheritance?
Have you made a will?
Will-writing firms ripping off consumers

SPONSORED FINANCIAL CONTENT