How major changes to intestacy rules affects you

Major changes to inheritance rules in England and Wales have highlighted the importance of making a valid will if your estate is to be distributed according to your wishes.

The Inheritance and Trustees’ Powers Act 2014, which came into force on 1 October, changes the way a person’s estate is divided if they die without a valid will (intestate).

Under the new rules, if someone dies intestate, it will affect those they leave behind in the following ways:

Surviving spouses or civil partners, where there are no children, will inherit the whole estate, without the remainder being split between siblings and parents.

Surviving children receive half of the remainder of the estate once the surviving spouse or civil partner has been given the first £250,000, with the remaining assets no longer being held up in a trust structure until they reach 18 years.  

Surviving children who were adopted by the deceased will no longer lose any potential claim to inheritance, expanding the definition of who can make a claim to an estate to include a person ‘treated as a child of the family’, even if they are subsequently adopted by another.

Surviving siblings and parents of someone married and childless no longer inherit a share of an estate if it was worth more than £450,00, as the entire sum goes to the surviving spouse.

However, the rule changes won’t affect people who die with less than £250,000 in assets. And cohabiting partners have no automatic right to receive anything from the estate, regardless of how long they have lived together, or even if they had children together, if they were neither married nor in a civil partnership with the deceased. So the only way to ensure that part, or all, of your estate will go to your partner is to marry them, or make a will.

The Law Society has said that the advent of new intestacy rules highlights the case for consumers to not only make a will, but to use a qualified solicitor to write a will in order to find and address any issues that could lead to problems later.