Majority of adults admit they don’t have a will as Intestacy Rules undergo first major change since 1925

October 01, 2014
  • Rules which determine what happens to a person’s estate if they die and there is no Will change for the first time today (1 October).
  • England and Wales see first significant changes to the Rules since 1925
  • New research shows almost two-thirds of adults do not have a will and that a quarter of over 65 years olds are still to make a will.

As the first significant changes to the Rules of Intestacy since 1925 come into force today (1 October), new research from the Co-operative Legal Services (CLS) reveals that two-thirds (60%) of adults, do not have a will* - as a result, they could be at risk of losing control over their estate if they die. 

The research uncovers the most common misconceptions as to what happens to a person’s estate if they die without leaving a will. Overall 14% of people admit they do not know what will happen to their estate when they die. And almost a third (32%) believe their children will automatically inherit their estate, with 1 in 10 people believing it will be split between their siblings (8%) or shared equally among all their relatives (7%).

Amongst the key changes to the Rules, from October 1st, couples who are married or in a civil partnership will inherit the entire estate if their partner dies without leaving a will and they did not have children or other descendants. However, this change does not apply to unmarried couples as they will not automatically have rights to their partner’s estate if they die without leaving will.

 

James Antoniou, Head of Wills, for the Co-operative Legal Services comments:


“In order to ensure that your estate goes to those you want to benefit, it is crucial that you take the right advice and put an effective will in place. If a person dies intestate (without a will) they lose control over what happens to their estate which could mean that their final wishes about what happens to their savings, assets and investments are not met.

“Although it’s pleasing that the changes to the Rules have simplified matters, the fact remains, if a person die without a valid will in place, they have no control over what happens to their estate.”

Other key changes** include:

  • Protection for children who are subsequently adopted following the death of a parent - The new rules allow a child of the deceased to inherit on intestacy, even if they are subsequently adopted.
  • Modernisation of what the rules define as chattels (or personal property) - Chattels (personal property) is now defined as anything that is not monetary, business assets or ‘held as investment’.  Previously, this extended to items including; crockery, horse and cart and clothing.
  • Changes to the inheritance of an estate for married couples or civil partners with children.

The research also highlights the main reasons people haven’t decided to make a will.  Almost two fifths (41%) of adults say they ‘haven’t got around to it’, over a quarter (26%) don’t believe they have anything of any value and one fifth (20%) think they are too young.  There are also one in ten people (12%) who have put off making a will because they ‘don’t like thinking about death’.

 

Austin Gill, Head of Probate for the Co-operative Legal Services said:

“It’s concerning that a quarter of those over the age of 65 do not have a will. When someone dies without leaving a valid will, we must carefully draw up a family tree to establish who is entitle to inherit from that estate. Depending on the complexity of the family, the administration of the estate can be prolonged. Often we are tasked with tracing people overseas which delays a family being able to have closure following a death.”


There are a number of things consumers need to know about the changes to the Rules of Intestacy and how they might be affected.

Further details can be found in the below:

 

Notes to Editors:

*Research conducted amongst 2,000 UK adults by ICM in August 2014.
** Further information about the changes to the Rules of Intestacy can be found in the ‘5 things consumers need to know about the changes to the Rules of Intestacy’ guide below

 

The Rules of Intestacy apply to England and Wales

Further explanation about the changes to the rules of intestacy:

 

1. Unmarried couples are still not covered by the rules of intestacy

Unmarried couples receive nothing from their partner’s estate if they die intestate (without having a valid Will in place). For this reason, it is extremely important that unmarried couples in particular have a valid Will in place to ensure their assets and personal belongings go to the people they are intended for. One of the initial proposals that was not included in the agreed changes was to include cohabitees in the intestacy rules to reflect living circumstances in today’s society. This would have seen a cohabitee to be treated like a spouse if they had been living with the deceased for at least five years up until death, or if they had children together and had been living together for at least two years up until death.

 

2. Married couples and civil partnerships without children

Under the old rules
Up until 1 October 2014, where someone dies intestate, the surviving spouse or civil partner would receive the first £450,000 of the estate plus interest, 50% of the balance over that and the deceased’s personal property (chattels). The remaining 50% of the balance then pass to the husband’s blood relatives. If there aren’t any members of the husband’s family alive then the entire estate would pass to deceased’s spouse or civil partner.

Under the new rules
Following the changes to the Rules of Intestacy, where there are no children, the entire estate will now pass to the surviving wife. This does simplify the process however it means the deceased’s parents, brothers and sisters or their children do not inherit anything unless a valid will is in place to state otherwise.

 

3. Married couples and Civil partnerships with children

Under the old rules
Under the previous rules (up to October 1, 2014), where someone dies intestate leaving a spouse or civil partner and direct descendants such as children, grandchildren great grandchildren, the partner would take the first £250,000 and all of the deceased’s personal property (chattels). The spouse or civil partner would also have a life interest in one half of the balance, and the children would take the other half of the balance. A life interest means that the surviving spouse is entitled to use the property or to receive its income until their own death at which point the property passes to the deceased’s direct descendants (children, grandchildren, great grandchildren).

Under the new rules
Under the new rules, the surviving spouse or partner still receives the first £250,000 and personal belongings absolutely, but instead of having a life interest in 50% of the remaining balance, they now receive this as a capital sum outright, so it is their own property. The remainder of the balance continues to go to the deceased’s direct descendants (children, grandchildren, great grandchildren).

 

4. The new definition of chattels (personal property)

Under the old rules
Up to October 1, 2014, under the rules of intestacy ‘personal property’ or ‘chattels’ have had an archaic and arguably ambiguous definition which includes ‘carriages’, ‘linen’ and ‘scientific instruments’.

Under the new rules
Chattels (personal property) is now defined as anything that is not monetary, business assets or ‘held as an investment’.  It evident that there will be disputes over what is meant as ‘investment’. People see investments as different things and where there are collectable items of value in an estate, there is a dispute over whether they pass to the new wife as ‘chattels’, or form part of the estate that the children from a previous marriage might inherit as an ‘investment’.

 

5. Adoption

Under the old rules
Previously, there was a risk that the child would lose its inheritance after adoption.

Under the new rules
The new rules allow a child of the deceased to inherit on intestacy, even if it is subsequently adopted.

For further information, contact:

Emily Dalton
Emily.dalton@co-operative.coop
07738 621 201

Lauren Hoult
Lauren.hoult@co-operative.coop
07702 505 626

 

About The Co-operative Legal Services (CLS)

The Co-operative Legal Services (CLS) was established in 2006 and in 2012 it became the first major consumer brand to be granted alternative business structure (ABS) status under the new Legal Services Act.
CLS is an integral part of the newly formed Consumer Services Division of the Co-operative Group, which includes General Insurance and Funeralcare. CLS seeks to offer fixed and transparent pricing to its customers, meaning that the customer is aware of what the costs involved will be and therefore able to manage costs more effectively.  CLS offers a range of products and services including Wills, Probate, Family Law, Personal Injury, Employment Law and Conveyancing.
CLS is regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority