If a couple are married, and don’t have Wills, it is often assumed that on death, everything will pass to each other. Some people may say for this reason, they don’t need a Will.
So let’s consider how the law works. Firstly, if assets are jointly owned, they pass to the joint owner. This is often the case with a house. However, a house can also be owned, “tenants in common” where two parties own their own share. Personal belongings also pass to the spouse.
Estates of up to £250,000 in value, will pass to the spouse. So if for example, the husband owns the house in his sole name, which is worth £200,000, and this is the main asset in his estate, it will go to his wife absolutely.
Over this figure, things get more complicated. The spouse receives the first £250,000, and half of the excess. For example, if the husband has assets worth £500,000 in his sole name, £250,000 goes to his wife and she will receive a further £125,000. The other £125,000 goes to his children.
The other half is paid to the children, if they are grown up, or held in trust for them if they are under eighteen. This could mean that the children own a part share in the family home on the death of their father. This can make things more complicated for a surviving spouse.
The situation can get more complicated, if the couple die together, and it is impossible to say who died first. It is said the younger partner has survived the older. So assuming they inherit from the older one, with no Will, their children will benefit, if there are any. If not, we are looking at parents, or brothers and sisters. The family of the older partner will not benefit at all.
If there are no children, and a married spouse dies with no Will, the surviving spouse will receive the whole estate.
This was reviewed about five years ago and was not always the case. Finally, if a couple are not married, and one of them dies, a “partner” has no legal claim to the assets of the deceased, and any children of the deceased person would have a stronger claim. If there are no children, then the parents or brothers or sisters will benefit as above. A partner of a deceased person, can make a claim through the courts, if they were dependent financially on their late partner previously, although this may not be easy or quick to conclude.