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The rules of intestacy are outdated and often unsympathetic

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Obi Nnochiri (pictured), Senior Wealth Management Consultant at St James’s Place, comments on a worrying rise in intestacy enquiries and highlights the problems caused by individuals who die without a will…

Anyone who dies without leaving a will is said to have died ‘intestate’. This means control of their estate is handed to someone else and then strict rules determine who gets what – often contrary to the deceased’s wishes. These are known as the rules of intestacy.

The rules of intestacy are outdated and often unsympathetic in that they don’t allow for modern family relationships – for example, there is no financial provision for unmarried and unregistered partners. Furthermore, the rules only recognise natural and adopted children for the purpose of inheritance; they do not acknowledge stepchildren.

It doesn’t matter what your relationship with members of your family was like when you were alive – under intestacy, the law decides who gets what and how much.

As such, the estates of those who die intestate are frequently subject to legal challenges from financial dependants and relatives who don’t inherit under intestacy rules, but claim entitlement to financial provision. This can lead to long, drawn-out cases over who gets the assets.

Despite the potential for intestacy to produce an unsatisfactory and upsetting outcome, recently-published figures show a rise in the number of families who are left having to deal with the consequences.

In 2015, the charity Citizens Advice received 3,747 enquiries about people who had died without making a will – more than double the number it received in 2011. Furthermore, a poll conducted last year by YouGov found that nearly two-thirds of UK adults have not written a will.

In addition, recent high-profile cases have provided a timely reminder of why having an up-to-date will, executed by a qualified and experienced individual, is so important. Ideally, the individual helping you write the will should also be able to advise on the most appropriate ways to structure assets so that any potential tax burden for inheritors is reduced or eliminated.

With the right help, will writing and estate planning can be a rewarding journey, culminating in the reassurance of knowing that your wishes will be carried out.

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