Why wills matter: intestacy rules change delay

The intestacy rules for England and Wales have been changed… belatedly and with real consequences for some estates.

If you do not have a valid will then the decisions about what happens to your estate on your death are governed by the laws of intestacy. These may not work as you might hope or expect them to. The rules differ between England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but in all three jurisdictions a surviving spouse or civil partner (not cohabitee) receives only a specified share of the estate if there are also children or grandchildren.

For England and Wales, that surviving spouse or civil partner’s entitlement consists of personal possessions, assets up to a fixed cash value and half of any remaining estate.

The legislation for England and Wales requires that fixed cash value to be updated once total inflation has exceeded 15% since the last update. No such indexation provision applies to the intestacy laws of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Unfortunately, although the 15% inflation threshold was triggered in November 2022, the Ministry of Justice did not act until 26 July 2023, by which time the Lord Chancellor’s legislated increase raised the cash sum by 19.3% to £322,000.

Throughout the UK, intestacy law is not a subject at the forefront of legislators’ minds. But at a personal level, the defaults imposed by intestacy rules can have serious effects. The families of
those who died intestate between November 2022 and July 2023 have potentially lost a substantial amount.

Research shows 50% of UK adults do not have a will. If you are among them or your will has not been reviewed for some years, the time to act is now. Procrastination, as the Ministry of Justice showed, can be costly.

 

The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate will writing and some forms of estate planning