How not to leave your estate to the wrong beneficiary

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Estate being passed to the wrong beneficiary

Most of us assume that when we pass away, the wishes laid out in our Will are followed. However, with families becoming more complex and legal advice more accessible, a Will must be kept up to date and clear in order to avoid assets being passed to the wrong beneficiary. Those who die intestate (without a Will), also risk their assets being distributed according to strict legal formulas instead of according to their personal wishes.

The importance of making and updating a Will

Making a Will is essential if you want your assets to be passed to specific beneficiaries. While some people make home-made Wills to save on costs, this can prove detrimental if strict laws are not followed. As such, it’s best to have it drafted by a someone with the expertise to guide you through the legal implications of your decisions and within the bounds of the law. Moreover, ensuring that a Will is updated means that it reflects current circumstances, preventing unintended beneficiaries from inheriting, or legal complications arising after your death.

Implications of having a Will

With a Will, your intentions for distributing specific assets like property, money or other legacies are formally laid out. However, your spouse and children have certain legal rights to your moveable estate (anything besides property or land) irrespective of the Will’s directives. If there are no children, your spouse can claim half of the moveable estate; with children, they can claim one-third, while children are entitled to one-third collectively (or half if there’s no spouse). They may choose to accept the Will’s terms or exercise their legal rights; in which case, they forfeit any specific provisions made for them in the Will.

Risks of not having a Will

Dying intestate complicates estate distribution, creating stress for your loved ones during a difficult time. In such circumstances, your spouse would receive prior rights to any shared heritable property and a portion of the moveable estate, followed by a claim to half or a third of the remainder, depending on whether you have children.

Unmarried partners receive nothing unless they successfully apply to the court, which decides at its discretion but limits claims to what a spouse might receive. Biological and adopted children are entitled to a third of your estate, but stepchildren and foster children have no entitlements. If you have no children but have a partner, then your parents, or failing them, your siblings and then their children will inherit your estate.

Complications of an outdated Will

An outdated Will can be problematic, especially if your life circumstances change. For example: you’re separated (but not yet divorced) and living with a new partner. If your Will remains unaltered, your spouse will still be the primary beneficiary. Similarly, if you make a Will and then get married, the Will is automatically revoked, meaning the rules of intestacy would apply if you don’t create a new Will.

With this in mind, it’s advisable to update your Will to reflect your current situation.

Estate planning

Before creating a Will, it’s a good idea to see an accountant or Kent tax advisor to discuss your financial position. This is particularly important if you have offshore assets, are a non-domiciliary of the UK, or have a business to pass on. Professionals such as Nick Hughes can assist in such cases, ensuring you’re able to reduce your Inheritance Tax liability and leave as much as possible to your chosen beneficiaries.

If you have been made the executor of a Will that may be invalid, seek the assistance of a Kent accountant for probate services. You will receive guidance on how to proceed with the distribution of the estate.

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