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Wills & Intestacy Explained

In short, your will tells everyone what should happen to your money, possessions and property after you die (all these things together are called your ‘estate’). If you choose to not leave a will, the law will decide how your estate is passed on – and this might not be in line with your wishes.


Having a will means that you will also not pay any more inheritance tax than you need to – Wills are a relatively straightforward legal document but it is important that you have the document formally witnessed and signed to ensure that it is legally valid.


Why is a Will Needed? A will simply outlines your wishes for the distribution of your estate and makes things significantly easier for your loved ones. There are some practical considerations however:


  • Don’t delay – It is easy and quick to make a will – it will save your family unnecessary distress at an already difficult time.
    • A will can help reduce the amount of Inheritance Tax that might be payable on the value of the property and money you leave behind.
    • If you don’t write a will, everything you own will be shared out in a standard way as defined by the law – which isn’t always the way you might want.
    • A will also makes it easier to pass on to those outside of your immediate family.
    • A will makes it much easier for your family or friends to sort everything out when you pass away – without a will the process can be more time consuming and stressful.


  • Your will inform your loved ones about your key wishes:
    • Who will be in control of organising your estate and following the instructions you leave in your will – this person is called your ‘executor’, and you can name more than one person if you want to.
    • Who should have your money, property and possessions when you die.


You can also use your will to inform people about any other wishes you have, such as instructions for your burial or cremation as well as the disposal of items and possessions. Your executor should also do their best to make sure your wishes are followed to the letter, so long as they don’t involve breaking the law.


Ensuring Your Will is Valid


In terms of the practicalities, your will doesn’t have to be on special paper or use a lot of legal language and will be valid so long as it:

  • States how your estate should be shared out when you pass away.
  • Was made when you were able to make your own decisions and weren’t placed under any external pressure about who to leave things to.
  • Is signed and dated by you in the presence of two adult, independent witnesses, and then signed by the two witnesses in your presence – the witnesses can’t be people who are going to inherit anything from you (or their husband/wife or civil partner.

How to Make a Will


If your family is fairly small and you wish to leave everything to them, making your will is straightforward. If your situation however  is more complicated – for example, if you have a second family or you want to leave money, items and gifts to lots of people – you’ll need to plan more carefully and possibly take further advice. The process however is straightforward:

  • Step 1 – Make a plan and think about who you wish to leave what and to whom.
  • Step 2 – Once a plan is made, consider talking to your family and set out what is to be left to whom in the will.
  • Step 3 – Write your will. There are a number of options based upon your circumstances and costs vary between £140 and £600 as to whether you select a simple will or a specialist will (incurs tax planning and offshore expertise). You can buy a will template in most high street stationers.


Once witnessed and signed you are all set, and should we hope have a peace of mind that your wishes will be carried out should the worst happen.


What Happens if the Will is Deemed Invalid – UK Intestacy Rules


When a person dies without leaving a valid will, their property (the estate) must be shared out according to certain rules. These are called the rules of intestacy and a person who passes away without leaving a will is called an intestate person.


Only married or civil partners and some other close relatives can inherit under the rules of intestacy.


If someone makes a will but it is not legally valid, the rules of intestacy decide how the estate will be shared out, not the wishes expressed in the will.


Married partners or civil partners inherit under the rules of intestacy only if they are actually married or in a civil partnership at the time of death. So if you are divorced or if your civil partnership has been legally ended, you can’t inherit under the rules of intestacy.


Partners who separated informally can also still inherit under the rules of intestacy. Cohabiting partners (sometimes wrongly called ‘common-law’ partners) who were neither married nor in a civil partnership cannot inherit under the rules of intestacy.


If there are surviving children, grandchildren or great grandchildren of the person who died and the estate is valued at more than £270,000, the partner will inherit:

  • All personal property and belongings of the person who has died.
  • The first £270,000 of the estate.
  • Half of the remaining estate.


If there are no surviving children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren, the partner will inherit all of the personal property and belongings of the person who has died the whole of the estate with interest from the date of death.


For more information on intestacy please click here for more information via the Citizens Advice Bureau.

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