The world’s ‘Queen of Soul’ Aretha Franklin died last month (August) at the age of 76 without leaving a will, highlighting the huge number of people, including those with large estates, who die without a will, says Vicki Gulliver, a member of Lodders’ Private Client team.
As Aretha Franklin didn’t have a will when she died – known as intestate – her family could have faced a long process to agree what she may have wanted for her estate, guided only by a strict set of statutory rules, but thankfully, the family accepted ‘Michigan Law’ and her four sons are due to inherit an equal share of the fortune, with no signs of conflict.
Making a will is so important so that the legal burden for those left behind is reduced, and they can try and concentrate on dealing with the sadness and grief and coming to terms with the loss of a loved one.
The rules governing intestacy are complex, and don’t accommodate certain relationships such as co-habitees, no matter how long couples may have lived together.
Why is a will important?
Recent statistics suggest that in the region of half of the UK adult population don’t have a will. Sadly, Aretha Franklin is the latest in a number of high profile celebrities and stars to die intestate – Prince died in 2016 without leaving a will.
There are all sorts of explanations and reasons why so many people don’t get around to making a will, and it would be fair to assume that in particular, those who have worked hard to build a successful career and wealth during their lifetime would invest time in planning how their assets will pass on to loved ones, or other beneficiaries, after their death. All too often, sadly this just isn’t the case.
Not only does a will mean you can clearly set out your beneficiaries, it is also a legal document in which you can specify who administers your estate.
Furthermore, in working with a solicitor experienced in writing wills and inheritance tax matters, there is the opportunity to learn about your tax planning opportunities. If you don’t leave a valid will, you may simply miss the opportunity to identify and use inheritance tax savings.
In English Law, the statutory intestacy rules determine how an estate has to be distributed if a person dies without leaving a will, and how they operate depends on the surviving family, but the rules are commonly misunderstood.
Amongst the main problems arising when people don’t have a will are that they don’t necessarily leave everything to a surviving spouse; there is no provision for unmarried partners, no matter how long the couple have been together; nor is there any automatic provision made for non-blood relatives, including stepchildren or dependents, friends and charities.
Worryingly, people without a will can also end up potentially benefiting estranged or even unknown family members that perhaps they really would not want to benefit, and if there are no surviving blood relatives, then the Crown will take the estate.
Under English law, there may be an option for disappointed beneficiaries. In certain circumstances, the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975, enables those who have not received reasonable financial provision from an estate to make a claim. Typically, this is used by a spouse, partners, and children, and could be described as a kind of legal safety net.
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