Though nobody wants to think about their twilight years, writing a will is one of the most important aspects of preparing for the inevitable. In the unfortunate event that your partner should pass away without leaving a will, you may be left wondering what to do next. You will likely have questions such as:
What are my rights?
What will happen to my partner’s assets?
Who are the rightful beneficiaries?
Without a valid will, the way in which your partner’s assets will be distributed will depend on numerous factors, such as whether or not you are married. Let’s take a closer look at what you are entitled to and how you can negotiate this complex situation.
If a person passes away without leaving a valid will, they will have died “intestate”, which means their property and assets are distributed according to UK intestacy laws. For married partners or civil partners, this means that you will inherit the whole of the estate with interest from the date of death. While this may be good news as far as you are concerned, keep in mind that this may not have aligned with your partner’s wishes. If there are surviving children or grandchildren, and the estate is valued at more than £270,000, you will inherit all personal property belonging to the deceased, the first £270,000 of the estate and half of the remainder. The other half will then be divided equally between their children.
Unfortunately, unmarried, cohabiting partners can't inherit under the rules of intestacy. As a “common law spouse”, you have no automatic right to your partner’s assets regardless of how long you have been together or the presence of children. If you do have children together, they will inherit your partner’s assets once they turn 18, with equal shares if there is more than one child. On the other hand, if you do not have children together, the estate will be allocated in the following order - parents, full siblings, half-siblings, grandparents, uncles and aunts (then their children), half-uncles and half-aunts (then their children). Without surviving relatives, your partner’s entire estate will go to the crown.
As previously stated, if you are unmarried or not in a civil partnership, your partner's estate will be inherited entirely by your children in accordance with intestacy rules, provided they are 18 or over.
Finding a rightful heir can be an arduous and complex process if an unmarried individual dies with no children or grandchildren as beneficiaries. In some cases, probate genealogy experts are required to carry out detective-like work to identify heirs based on birth, death and marriage certificates, as well as census records and property records. Once a probate genealogist effectively identifies the heirs of a deceased individual, they can help to ensure that the estate is distributed fairly and that the heirs are able to claim their inheritance.
Suppose you feel as though you have a right to your deceased partner’s assets, although you are unmarried. In that case, you may be able to make a claim for financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Keep in mind that you will only be able to make a claim if you have been living with your partner for a minimum of two years prior to their death. Any claims must be issued within six months of the Grant of Representation. However, intestacy rules can be harsh and unwavering and often do not accommodate modern relationships and living arrangements. Here is some more information about making a claim.
The complexities of intestacy rules can be avoided by ensuring your partner writes a will. Even if you are relatively young, a will provides peace of mind so you and your partner can rest assured that your assets are fairly distributed according to your wishes. For instance, you may want to include parties that would otherwise not be considered beneficiaries under intestacy law, such as friends, charities and step-children. Furthermore, a will should be legally valid, meaning it must be written voluntarily by somebody over the age of 18 and signed in the presence of two witnesses, who should have no blood relation to the testator.