I read an article written by a solicitor this week in which she wondered whether it would be appropriate to make not having a valid will in place a criminal offence. In these days of the nanny state (or naggy state as one writer called it) we are used to legislation about everything. Only this week a famous chef complained that legislation indicating that he must specify the ingredients in his dishes was cramping his creative flair. I think legislation making you have a will in place would be a step too far. However I am only too well aware of the problems that not having an up to date will can cause. I had a friend who sadly died aged only 50. She left a young child and a partner living in a very valuable property. The property was owned only by my friend and had a large mortgage on it. Her last will had been made when she was only 35 and in it she left her whole estate to be divided equally among her two brothers, her former partner with whom she had had two children now grown up and those grown up children. Her present partner and child had to instruct separate solicitors to represent them in making a claim against her estate. Her grown up children also had to appoint solicitors. The division of the estate has now been resolved but it caused a lot of heartache for all concerned and cost a lot of money to be resolved. All the costs were paid from the estate leaving far less money for her family than would otherwise have been the case.

The above scenario explains what happens if your will has not kept pace with your change in circumstances.

If you do not have a will at all then the rules of intestacy determine how your estate will be divided. The rules of intestacy do not recognise a live in partner and so a live in partner will not benefit even if you have lived together for many years.

Married partners or civil partners inherit under the rules of intestacy if they are actually married or in a civil partnership at the time of death. If they are divorced or if the civil partnership has legally ended then they cannot inherit under the rules of intestacy. Married or civil partners who have separated informally can still inherit under the rules of intestacy.

If there is a surviving married or civil partner and surviving children, grandchildren or great grandchildren of the person who died and the estate is valued at more than £250,000 the surviving partner will inherit all the personal property and belongings of the person who has died; the first £250,000 of the estate and half of the remaining estate. The children will inherit the rest.

If there are no surviving children, grandchildren or great grandchildren the surviving married or civil partner will inherit everything.

If there is no surviving married or civil partner then the children will inherit everything if there are any. If there are none then surviving parents will inherit or again if none surviving brothers and sisters.

Unmarried partners, relations by marriage, close friends and carers have no right to inherit under the rules of intestacy.

Make sure your will is up to date. If you would like advice about this or any other matters then e mail or call Helen Stewart on 01425 279222