Once upon a time, there lived a very bored (but exceptionally diligent) paralegal. Everyday she would head to the office and stare at the same Excel spreadsheet. It contained a litany of things that really don’t belong in an excel spreadsheet – friends and family members, photographs, old records, engagement rings, a collection of saucy novels, a Constable painting, and boxes filled with the detritus of faded memories – theatre tickets, thank-you cards and wedding invitations.
Every day, as she populated this spreadsheet with yet another illegitimate child or meaningless trinket, she wondered…could someone not have tapped Mr Plonker (obviously his real name) on the shoulder and said, ‘now you miserable old bastard, if you think you’re shuffling off this mortal coil without a will, you’ve another thing coming’.
Apparently not. Clear ulterior motives aside, it’s hard to raise the subject of a loved one’s demise without resembling a vulture cloaked in good intention.
This may explain why every year thousands of people in the UK die intestate – the rich ones leaving a majestic mess for their families to sort out. According to a YouGov survey, over two thirds of us haven’t made a will, the repercussions of which are anything but trivial.
Dying intestate is to abandon autonomy over your assets. Forget bequests to your favourite charities or the stamp collection you promised cousin Colin – predetermined and inflexible rules govern which of your heirs inherit. Broadly, your spouse gets everything up to £250,000 and half of everything else above that amount. Therefore, particularly with smaller estates where there is a surviving husband or wife, the law is colder than a gravedigger’s bottom – children, unmarried partners and friends are not entitled to a penny.
With larger estates over £250,000, assets are distributed between your spouse and heirs.