New figures show a 60% jump in people dying without a will during the pandemic.
Thousands of families are facing costly legal battles over contested inheritance. These disputes can last years and can potentially tear families apart. The news comes after local authorities have reported a surge in the number of people dying without a will, potentially sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Figures obtained by The Telegraph from 250 councils via a Freedom of Information request show that more than 1,300 people died without setting out their final wishes during the first three months of the coronavirus outbreak last year.
These numbers, recorded between March and May 2020, were up from 822 recorded during the same period in 2019. This represents an incredible 60% increase year on year.
Industry experts have suggested this likely down to both how the pandemic has disrupted life, and also the increase in people who have died from COVID-19 itself.
Philip Turvey of the probate genealogy firm, Anglia Research, stated the pandemic had “disrupted every aspect of life” and the “dramatic spike” in people dying without wills was “yet another upsetting symbol” of the many lives lost during the crisis.
What happens if I die without a will?
When someone dies without a valid will in place, strict laws come into force which establish who inherits what. These are called the rules of intestacy, and the strict nature of the rules can often lead to unnecessary stress for the family of the deceased. They can also lead to inheritance disputes.
This is because dying without a will can often mean that final wishes are not carried out the way the deceased would like, due to the way the rules are set out. Under the rules of intestacy, only married couples, civil partners, and certain other close relatives can inherit anything from the deceased’s estate.
There is a hierarchy of who inherits the estate if the deceased was not married or in a civil partnership. In this case, their estate will pass to the following individuals in priority order:
- Your children or grandchildren
- Your parents
- Your siblings of whole blood (or their children)
- Any half-siblings or their children
- Your grandparents
- Your uncles and aunts of whole blood (or their children)
- Your uncles and aunts of half-blood (or their children)
- The Crown
Issues can potentially crop up if the deceased had planned to cut someone out of their will. If there is nothing written down making this clear, families can often end up arguing over the estate and any money owed in court.
In some cases, the legal fees for an inheritance dispute cost more than the inheritance is worth.
The figures from local authorities show how most of the new cases in March – May 2020 happened due to no one coming forward straight away to declare the death or claim the inheritance. In this scenario, the council will have to step in and trace the next of kin.
How can I avoid inheritance disputes?
The best way to avoid your family being dragged through a long and stressful inheritance dispute is to have an up-to-date, valid will written.
Writing a will is particularly important if you have children or other family members who depend on you financially. If you do not have a will, your assets will be shared according to the rules of intestacy. However, no two families are the same and relationships are always a little more complex - you may not want to share everything you own differently to this standard.
We also advise reading our 14 common mistakes to avoid when writing a will guide before beginning to ensure that your will cannot be challenged once you have passed away.
The laws surrounding wills are often complex meaning there is no room for mistakes when writing one. Simple mistakes can lead to disinheriting a loved one. It can open the door for the contents of the will to be disputed and can potentially lead the will to be completely void.
Our Wirral Will Writing Solicitors can help you understand exactly what needs to be present within a will.
How can Percy Hughes & Roberts help?
It is clear to see that there are more than a few negative consequences of dying without a will. At Percy Hughes & Roberts, we understand the importance of having an up-to-date will to avoid all of the headaches that your family may be put through after your death.
We have a team of expert will writing solicitors who are ready to help you start writing your will to combat any of these unwanted consequences.
If you need assistance with probate, writing a will, making a change to a will, or simply want general advice, our Wirral Wills solicitors have a wealth of experience.