Modernising inheritance – changes to the law of intestacy

Modernising inheritance – changes to the law of intestacy

Today (Wednesday 1st October) changes to the rules that determine what happens to our assets when we die without a will come into force. The new intestacy rules, found in the Inheritance and Trustees’ Powers Act 2014, mark one of the biggest updates to the law on succession in recent years.

The principal changes greatly impact families left behind when a loved one dies intestate (without a will). Surviving spouses or civil partners are granted more protection, and the rules for how an estate is distributed when there are also surviving children and other dependants is simplified. The statutory powers of trustees’ are also reformed to make it easier for them to use income and capital from a trust, provided it is for the benefit of the trust’s beneficiaries.

Yet, despite the aims of modernising and simplifying the intestacy rules to reflect modern attitudes, proposals to grant unmarried partners who live together rights have not been taken forward – those who are in a relationship but not married or in a civil partnership are given no entitlement over their deceased partner’s estate. It is also arguable that the rights of surviving spouses and civil partners now trump those of other surviving family members.

What are the new rules?

  • Where there are no children, the surviving spouse or civil partner will inherit all of their deceased partner’s estate. Other blood relatives, such as parents, have no entitlement to the estate.;
  • Where the deceased is survived by children, the surviving spouse or partner will inherit all of their deceased partner’s belongings (other than money, property used for business or investments), the first £250,000 from the estate and half of the residuary estate (ie what remains). The surviving children inherit the other half of the residuary estate.;
  • The definition of ‘children of the family’ is widened to include anyone who the deceased treated as a child of the family. This change addresses a number of legal obstacles under the old law that made it difficult for dependants to make a valid family provision claim if their parents weren’t married or in a civil partnership, or if they were subsequently adopted after the death of a parent.

With new rules in place, why make a will?

Although a seemingly simplified system now replaces archaic and complex law, the intestacy rules are a fall-back position and aren’t intended to address every situation. For instance, cohabitants are given no rights upon intestacy, meaning an application would have to be made to the court for them to receive something, if anything, from their deceased partner’s estate.

The new rules may also grant individuals rights over an estate that the deceased had no intention of granting. For example, the absolute entitlement to a partner’s estate may result in a separated or estranged spouse or civil partner claiming inheritance to the detriment of surviving relatives.  So in some ways the new rules mean that it is more important than ever to make a will.

Perhaps the most important reason for making a will is that it allows us to retain control over our own legacy rather than having one determined by the law. By exercising our freedom to make a will, not only are we making our intentions known, but we’re making times easier for those we leave behind when we aren’t around any more.

Simple and effective will-making

To avoid any conflict and ease stress during a deeply traumatic time, it is essential to have a will in place that determines how property and assets are distributed among surviving loved ones. Rocket Lawyer can guide can you through the process of making a will, ensuring that your instructions are clear and legally valid, and that those you leave behind are looked after the way you intended.