Why everyone should have a will

If you die without leaving a will, your family could suffer legal and financial ructions.

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You don't have to be wealthy to need a will. We asked Jill Rushton from law firm Stephensons to explain why...

If you die without mean – the legal term is ‘intestate’ – it can have major repercussions for ordinary individuals and their families.

Figures released by the charity, Will Aid, last year suggest that more than half of the UK population do not have valid wills.

What’s more, the Citizens Advice say that the number of queries they receive regarding intestate inheritances have soared in recent years, reaching almost 3,500 in 2015.

There’s a misconception that only the well-off or elderly need to make a will but, in fact, every adult should have one. 

Many people put off drawing one up, perhaps because it feels morbid and they feel awkward discussing the issue with loved ones. Or maybe they just don’t know how to go about making a will. 

But dying intestate can cause immense distress to your loved ones, at a time when they are already grieving over the loss of someone close to them.

Making a will can be relatively simple and inexpensive. A solicitor can usually draw up a basic will for around £250. A joint will can cost around £400.

The process is usually fairly straightforward, and probate solicitors are experienced in dealing with the issues around wills and inheritance.

Intestacy problems

There are a several good reasons to have a will.

First, dying intestate can mean your estate ends up in the hands of an ex-husband or wife, or a distant relative you don’t know, rather than the person you would have liked to leave it to.

Under the rigid rules of intestacy, your estate is shared with your married or civil partner and other blood relatives in a strict order of priority.

Many unmarried couples assume there is no need for a will. However, the arrangement widely known as ‘common law marriage’ has no legal standing.

That means unmarried partners, step-children and step-grandchildren do not inherit under intestacy.

In the past, when relationships and family arrangements were less complex, the intestacy rules tended to be enough to ensure any inheritance ended up in the correct hands, but in the modern era of blended families - where many couples have children from other marriages and marriage is not as wide spread - intestacy can cause devastation.

Surviving children

A will would also allow you to specify guardians for your children and give those guardians guidance on bringing up your children. If you don’t have a will, then you have no say on what happens to them after you die. 

It allows you to make funeral arrangements, leave gifts to the charities you support or give someone you care about something to remember you by. 
But perhaps worst of all, without a will, there’s risk that your estate could end up in the government’s hands. 

The assets of people who die intestate with no known immediate relatives are advertised at a rate of around 40 estates a week. About £50m a year ends up going to the Crown.

Finally, even if you do want to leave your estate to the same person who would inherit under intestacy rules, you should still make a will. Without one, the business of settling your affairs could take much longer and can cost thousands of pounds.

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