Changes came in during February 2009 to the rules regarding how much a surviving spouse and children should inherit when someone dies without making a will (known as the intestacy rules). However, these changes did not amend the rules regarding who should inherit the estate.
There is still a common misconception that a surviving “common law” husband or wife would inherit their partner’s estate if there is no will. However, currently under the intestacy rules a cohabitant will not receive any entitlement to their partner’s estate. They would have to bring a claim against the estate to change the provisions which could be costly and emotionally stressful. In some unfortunate cases, for instance if there are children from another relationship, it could mean that the family home has to be sold so that the estate can be divided. There is also currently a distinction between brothers and sisters of the “whole blood” (i.e. with both the same parents) and half-brothers and sisters (with only one common parent), the latter not necessarily sharing in the estate.
In today’s society marriage is on the decline and there are often children from more than one relationship. As the intestacy rules were introduced in 1925 and as family structures in society have changed so much since then, the Law Commission produced a consultation document earlier this year to review the existing law. We will have to wait and see if and how the rules are changed.
In the meantime it is more important than ever to make a will to ensure that the people who inherit an estate are the ones the deceased person did want to benefit.
For more information please contact Helen Kelly on 01625 442 147 in our Private Client team.