If an unmarried individual who had children dies, all possessions are shared equally between their children. Unmarried people without children will have their possessions divided equally between either their parents, siblings, grandparents, or uncles and aunts.
Further to this, if an unmarried individual without close family dies, regardless of their relationship status, the crown inherits their assets.
Put simply, this system overlooks unmarried partners, stepchildren, or any close friends to whom the individual may have preferred to leave their possessions. Even if non-blood relatives are financially dependent on the individual in question, they will receive nothing under the intestacy laws.
Intestacy laws are very difficult to contest.
It is possible for an unmarried partner or close friend to file a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act – for example, individuals could claim they were financially dependent on the deceased and therefore entitled to support.
An alternative option would be for individuals to apply for a deed of variation in order to persuade those who inherited to share the deceased’s assets.
However, both processes can be complicated, time-consuming, and ultimately cause a great deal of upset and confusion to individuals during what will already be an incredibly difficult time, without any guarantees.
Ensuring a valid will is in place can naturally help to avoid and overcome this potential issue. It will ensure that assets are allocated exactly as the deceased intends, allowing for unmarried partners, friends and charities to receive funds.
Intestacy rules can cause more than just emotional stress – they can also impose a financial burden for family members. Indeed, they may find themselves subject to avoidable and unexpected inheritance taxes (IHT).
At present, it is possible to leave beneficiaries up to £325,000 tax free – otherwise known as the IHT nil-rate band.
However, dying without a will can cause complications. For example, while a spouse is exempt from IHT bills, other recipients are not.
So, if a married individual with children dies without a will, the law states that the spouse’s inheritance of the first £250,000 is tax-free, burdening the individual’s children with the hefty IHT bill.
While IHT is unavoidable, there are certainly ways in which an individual can be more tactile about their asset management.
For example, any gift an individual allocates to an individual, in a valid will, seven or more years before their death is exempt from IHT.
Although, this must be demonstrated as an outright gift, being referred to as a “gift with reservation of benefit” to account for this. This gift could apply to a range of assets, from a fixed sum of money to property or shares.