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Will power

07 July 2016

A worrying rise in intestacy enquiries highlights the problems caused by individuals who die without a Will.

Deciding who you would like to benefit from your estate, and in what proportions, normally starts with a Will. A Will spells out who will serve as your executor as well as who will inherit – and under what terms.

Anyone who dies without leaving a Will is said to have died ‘intestate’. This means that 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.

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 20111. Furthermore, a poll conducted last year by YouGov found that nearly two-thirds of UK adults have not written a Will.2

“It doesn’t matter that your relationship with members of your family was like when you were alive – under intestacy, the law decides who gets what and how much,” says Obi Nnochiri, Senior Wealth Management Consultant at St. James’s Place.The rules of intestacy are outdated and often unsympathetic in that they don’t allow for modern family relationships - for example, there is no financial provision for unmarried and unregistered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.

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.

“Recent high-profile cases are a timely reminder of why having an up-to-date Will, executed by a qualified and experienced individual, is so important,” says Nnochiri.

“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,” he adds.

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.

1 www.bbc.co.uk 19 May 2016

2 Legal Services Consumer Panel, Legal Tracker Survey 2015 - data tables for general public sample November 2015

Will writing involves the referral to a service that is separate and distinct to those offered by St. James’s Place. Wills are not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

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