If you haven't written a will you should consider getting one now during free wills month. It's particularly pertinent as a shake-up of the law in England and Wales may also affect what happens to your cash if you die without one.
From today, anyone who dies in England and Wales without having left a will, known as 'intestacy', could be affected by the new 'Inheritance and Trustees' Powers Act 2014'.
For example, if you pass away with a surviving spouse or civil partner but don't have children, your spouse/civil partner will now inherit your whole estate. Previously they'd only inherit the first £450,000, while anything above this amount would be shared between other surviving blood relatives.
So consider making a will now. There are no age restrictions on when you can do so and although it's not pleasant to think about death, it's important to set out your wishes so your surviving relatives don't have to deal with the financial trauma that comes with a person dying but having no will.
Jo Gornitzki, money expert at MoneySavingExpert.com, says: "If you want to make sure anything you own – whether it's your house or your cat Fluffy – goes to a particular person should you die, consider making a will.
"It doesn't cost much and sometimes you can even get one for free. It'll avoid unnecessary heartache for your loved ones in the event you die. Regardless of your age, it's something worth considering."
So what exactly's changed?
Here's what's changed if you die without a will under today's new rules. Where we mention 'estate' this refers to the monetary value of all your property, money and other personal possessions.
- Married/in a civil partnership, without children. Your surviving partner will inherit your whole estate regardless of how much it's worth. Previously they would only have inherited the first £450,000, while anything above this amount would have been shared between the spouse and other surviving blood relatives. If there were no other surviving relatives, the partner got the full amount.
Married/in a civil partnership, with children. Your surviving partner will inherit the first £250,000 of your estate. Anything above this amount will be split; half goes to your surviving partner and half is shared between your surviving children, including children from any previous marriages. The children can't access the inheritance until they're 18.
Previously the first £250,000 went to the surviving partner. Anything above this amount was effectively split in half; half went entirely to the children, the other half also went to the children, although the surviving partner was entitled to take the interest earned from this half as an income for the rest of their life, with the capital passing to the children only upon the spouse's death.
A child under the age of 18 adopted after the death of their natural parent will also be able claim their inheritance from their natural parent in this scenario. Previously, adopted children in this circumstance were excluded from their natural parent's inheritance.
And here's what remains the same:
- Unmarried, but have a partner with or without children.
Even if you're cohabiting your surviving partner gets nothing if you die without a will. Instead your children will be first in line to make a claim on your estate. Parents and other blood relatives will also be able to claim a share.
If you have no other surviving relatives then the money will go to the Treasury.
What are the rules for those in Northern Ireland and Scotland?
The new rules outlined above only apply in England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland have slightly different systems. Here's how they work.
I live in Northern Ireland.
Below are the basics; for more information see the NI Government website.
- I'm married/in a civil partnership without children. The first £450,000 of the estate goes to the surviving partner. Anything above this amount is shared equally among other surviving blood relatives. If there are no other relatives, the surviving partner inherits the entire estate.
- I'm married/in a civil partnership with children. The first £250,000 of the estate goes to the surviving partner. Anything above this amount is shared between the surviving partner and the surviving children. If there is one child, this amount is split in half. If there is more than one child, the surviving partner gets a third of this amount and the children equally split the remaining two thirds between them.
- I'm unmarried or single without children. Even if you lived with your partner, your surviving partner will inherit nothing. Your estate will be shared between your surviving parents and other blood relatives. If you have no surviving blood relatives, your estate will go to the Treasury.
- I'm unmarried or single with children. Even if you lived with your partner, your surviving partner will inherit nothing. Your estate will be shared between your surviving children.
I live in Scotland.
The rules in Scotland are a little more complicated. What happens when you die will-less depends on how much your property is worth, how much you have in cash savings and the value of any furniture you own.
Rules are further complicated by whether or not you have surviving children. See HMRC for the full details.
How can I cut the cost of making a will?
This month is Free Wills Month, where solicitors across England and Wales draft a free will for you in the hope that you'll leave a bequest to charity. To get one, you must be 55 or over. Solicitors in 28 towns/cities and counties are taking part.
For more information see our Cheap and Free Wills guide, which also includes other tips and tricks to cut costs.