Who will you leave your money to? Your ex-spouse? The taxman? Prince Charles? Unless you draw up a will, any one of them could be a possibility.
Meanwhile, your long-term partner, stepchildren or fiance could miss out.
October is ‘Free wills month’, when participating solicitors will draw up or update a simple will without charge.
Over half (54%) of Britons have not made a will, according to research by Which?
These are just a few of the things that could happen to your money if you don’t leave a will, according to financial advisers Hargreaves Lansdown.
If you don’t leave a will ...
Your spouse (or civil partner) could be worse off
While jointly-held property and accounts will automatically pass to your spouse, the rest of your estate won’t necessarily.
In England and Wales, your spouse will get the first £250,000, and half of the rest, but if you have children, the remainder will be split between them.
If you’re holding money you both intended to use, this could cause serious problems.
It could be even worse in Scotland
In Scotland, aside from jointly held property – which passes to them directly – your spouse will get £473,000 worth of residential property, plus furniture and household items worth £29,000.
If you have children, your spouse will get the first £50,000 of any savings and investments and a third of the rest – and the remainder is shared equally between children.
If you don’t have children, your spouse will get the first £89,000 and half of what’s left – the remainder will be split between your parents and siblings.
It could trigger a needless tax bill
If you have a sizeable estate, the rules could mean leaving more than £325,000 to your children or other family members – excluding your home – and triggering a tax bill.
If you leave everything to your spouse, it will pass tax-free.
Your long-term partner could receive none of your savings or even their home
If you’re not married or civil partners, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been together for 30 years, and it doesn’t matter if you’re engaged – aside from any jointly owned property or accounts, your estate will go to your children.
If your children have passed away, it will go to grandchildren and then great-grandchildren.
If you have no children, it will pass to other family members in a specific order: parents, brothers or sisters, half brothers or sisters, grandparents, then uncles or aunts.
If you own a property as tenants in common instead of joint tenants, your half of the property will go to other members of the family.
And if you have no close family members, there’s a risk it could end up belonging to a long lost aunt – who wants to sell.
Separation doesn’t change the rules
Unless you’re divorced, you’re still treated as a spouse, so you could have been separated for decades and living with a new partner, and your estranged spouse will inherit.
Stepchildren get nothing
Even if you brought up a stepchild as your own, unless you adopted them, they’ll receive nothing.
If your biological children have been adopted, they get nothing
If you have biological children but they have been adopted into another family, they don’t qualify as your children from an inheritance perspective.
Grandchildren get nothing unless their parents have died
In some families this isn’t an issue, but where parents and children don’t have straightforward relationships, or where children have problems with money, it could mean grandchildren miss out.
You won’t get to decide who gets heirlooms and items of sentimental value
Unless these are classed as investment, they’ll be considered chattels and left to your spouse.
If you always promised a particular child, family member or friend they’d receive something specific on your death, you can’t be certain that will happen.
If you don’t have any family, it could go to Prince Charles
In most of the UK, it will go to the crown. However, if you live in Cornwall, it will specifically go to Prince Charles, who gives it to charity.
If you live in the Duchy of Lancaster, it will go to the Duke of Lancaster – the Queen – who gives some to charity and uses some to maintain the estate.
A surviving unmarried partner can apply to the crown for a grant from the estate – but they can refuse.
Deed of variation
If someone dies without a will, and you know how they would have wanted their estate divided up, you can draw up a deed of variation within two years of their death, and change the way the estate is left.
However, you will need the agreement of everyone who would have benefited under intestacy laws, and to complete the legal process.
If children under the age of 18 would have benefited under intestacy rules, they cannot agree to a deed of variation, so it would need to go through the courts – which becomes much more expensive.