Many of us now live in non-traditional, or “non-nuclear” families. According to Encyclopedia Brittanica “A nuclear family, elementary family or conjugal family is a family group consisting of two parents and their children (one or more).”
It is the classic family structure which is still common, but according to every statistical analysis, a decreasing number of families meet this criteria.
We are seeing far more one-parent families, “blended” or “stepfamilies” where one partner is not the biological parent of the children, civil partnerships and three parents living under the same roof.
According to data coming from the Office for National Statistics, the number of marriage rate has halved in the UK since the 1970’s. In 2017, the married or civil partner couple family remains the most common, but the cohabiting couple family growing the fastest (doubling from 1996). In fact, about half the population of the UK are either single, divorced, widowed or in a civil partnership.
The nuclear family therefore only makes up less than a quarter of households in the UK.
This article is going to step through the implications of some different family structures.
Writing a Will when you are single
If you are single, you should be writing a Will. If you are married with children, and die without a Will, the distribution plan for your estate isn’t particularly surprising. Your spouse will receive the first £250,000 of the estate, with the remainder being divided between the spouse and children.
But what if you are single, with no children?
The number of UK adults over 50 who are single, never married, has more than doubled since 2002!! From 6.1 percent to 12.9 percent.
If you are single, never married, with no children, 55 years old and you die without a Will, what would happen to your estate?
If you still have parents, then the entire estate will pass to your parents, who presumably would be in their eighties or nineties.
If your parents are no longer alive, then your estate will be shared between your brothers and sisters. If any sibling has pre-deceased you, then their share will go to their children.
If you have no siblings, then the intestate distribution plan really starts to reach. It would try half siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and failing this, everything is going to the crown (or the Duchy of Cornwall if you happen to live there).
In 2015 there were nearly 15,000 unclaimed estates reported. If you are interested, you can check the list yourself by going to the government website for unclaimed estates and download the spreadsheet.
Single with no children – do I need a Will?
Yes. A Will is an incredible powerful document that allows you to do wonderful things.
On the practical side, a Will allows you to put somebody in charge of everything. You name an “Executor” and this is the person with the responsibility to take care of your affairs after you have passed away. If you are single with no children, it may not be obvious who will step up to take charge. Your ageing parents may not be up to the task, your eldest sibling may not be the most responsible, or they may have financial struggles.
Your Will allows you to name the most trustworthy and qualified person to take responsibility for the administration of your estate (including the arranging of your funeral).
If you do not have family members who can do this, then you can name a professional Trustee, bank or law firm (although they all charge a significant fee).
Your Will also allows you to do worthwhile things with your assets. You can leave specific bequests to individuals, like £1,000 to your close friends, your guitar to your nephew, your car to your church. Not too many single people with no children would choose to leave everything to their parents, but this is the distribution plan if you don’t have a Will.
Writing a Will if I have no assets
This is one of the great misconceptions of Will writing. You may be putting off writing a Will until you accumulate more wealth because you feel that you have nothing to leave. There are two reasons why this makes no sense.
Generally speaking you are not writing a Will to come into effect tomorrow. It is going to come into effect at some time in the future. Your financial situation could change significantly between the writing of your Will and the day it comes into effect.
If you are young, there is a distinct possibility that your death could be caused by an accident. It could even be caused by negligence. And somebody could be held responsible. If this is the case, your estate would be worth much, much more that you were ever worth whilst you were alive.
The important point to note is that you actually have no idea what your estate will be worth after you have died. There is still value in writing your Will today even if you are penniless!
Furthermore, there are “digital assets” to take into account. Who will manage your social media accounts to make sure that they are closed down appropriately? Who will take responsibility for your online photos, or even digital currencies and revenue from your blog or YouTube channel?
Do I need a Will if I am living Common-law or cohabiting?
If you cohabit with your partner, but have never actually tied the knot, your partner has no legal rights to inherit.
This is extremely important. If you have lived with somebody for 30 years, even if you have children, but you are not married, your partner will not receive an inheritance automatically if you do not have a Will. Even if everybody assumed that you were married.
If you jointly own property, you can have it set up for the surviving partner to receive the entire property, but this only applies to property ownership and not to other assets.
The answer is to take the 20 minutes to write a Will. It really is that simple. Then you can name your cohabiting partner as your main beneficiary. Problem solved. You would also name an alternate beneficiary in case you were both involved in an accident at the same time.
Writing a Will for Step-families or Blended families
There are an increasing number of step-families or “blended families” in the UK. This is where a couple marry, and one or both partners bring children into the family from a previous relationship. If the couple cohabit without marrying, see the above section on cohabiting – the partners have no inheritance rights without a Will.
Remember the Brady bunch? Each parent brought 3 children into the new family.
There are two important notes about this type of family set up. It is vital to write a Will, and it is extremely important to write it correctly.
If you do not write a Will, and you are married, then your spouse will receive the first £250,000 of your estate, with the remainder being shared between your spouse and your biological children. Stepchildren receive nothing from an estate if there is no Will. This may or may not make sense for your situation depending on how you regard your stepchildren.
Lifetime interest trusts
The most significant mistake people make when preparing their Will for a stepfamily situation is naming their spouse as the main beneficiary with their children as the alternate beneficiary. This comes with a misunderstanding that everything will go to the spouse and when the spouse dies, everything will go to the children.
This is not the case.
If you leave everything to your spouse, many years may pass before your spouse dies. They may move on with their life, they may start a new relationship, and there is a good chance that they will lose touch with your children.
When they die, their estate will be divided according to their Will. Remember that their estate is going to include everything that they received from your estate. There is a good chance that they will then leave their estate to their own biological children. Your children will receive nothing and will have been completely disinherited from your estate.
The answer is a “lifetime interest trust” and this is supported through the Will writing service at LegalWills.co.uk.
When you step through the Will service at LegalWills.co.uk, in the section on distributing your possessions we have a checkbox for displaying “blended family” options (step-family) options.
This allows you to leave everything to your spouse in trust, so that they can live off the proceeds of the estate, for example, continue to live in the family home, until they die. At which point everything passes to your children. The assets remain part of your estate and do not become part of the estate covered by your spouse’s Will.
LegalWills.co.uk is unique as the only online Will writing service to offer these options.
Writing a Will as a single parent
If you are a single parent, a Will is critical for at least two reasons.
A Will allows you to name a guardian for your child. This is important for married couples in case both parents were involved in a common accident. But it is more important for single parents, as there is not always an obvious family member to take on the guardianship.
If a young child has no parents, the courts appoint a guardian. Hopefully some people will put themselves forward as candidates, and a judge will appoint the person that they regard as the most qualified. This can be based on their financial means, relationship with the child, where they live, their own family situation. But clearly, the judge will not know these people and wouldn’t be able to take into account their parenting style, spiritual beliefs and other qualities that you may feel are important.
If you name a guardian in your Will, the judge will turn to that person first. Unless there is a good reason why this person is no longer appropriate, then the person that you have named in your Will would be appointed guardian for the child. It is a critical appointment.
In addition, your Will allows you to set up a trust for a young beneficiary. You cannot leave £100,000 directly to a six year old. It is held in trust until they become old enough to receive it directly (you determine this age in your Will). The trust fund is then managed by a trustee all the time they are growing up.
Same sex marriage and civil partnerships
If you have entered into a Civil Partnership, then your partner has the exact same inheritance rights as a married partner. But you should still prepare a Will.
Even if you do not have children, and your entire estate will be passing to your partner, the process is just simpler with a Will. Your partner will still have to take your Will through the probate process. With a Will this is an online process, and they will be given a “grant of probate”. Without a Will, the process is slower, you have to submit an application form in the post, and your partner will eventually be given a “grant of administration”.
Your Will also allows you to include things like charitable bequests or monetary legacies to friends and family members. There is never any advantage in dying without a Will.
How to write a Will
Broadly speaking, there are four ways to make a Last Will and Testament.
- Write your Will with a blank sheet of paper, or a Will kit like the one from the post office. This is generally not recommended because you can easily make mistakes, it usually doesn’t include things like alternate plans, and would not allow you to easily set up trusts for minors, care for a pet, lifetime interest trusts. They could in theory work for you in a very, very simple family situation, but with any non-nuclear family arrangements, we would not recommend this approach.
- Write your Will with a solicitor. This approach would allow you to ask for legal advice from a qualified legal professional, but it is a very expensive approach, and not usually very convenient. Not only in making the Will but also keeping it up-to-date.
- Using a Will Writer. There is a growing business of “Will Writing” offered by companies where writing a Will may or may not be there core business. The Will writer is usually given a little training, and some software, but they are often commission based, and make a lot of money upselling clients on services they don’t really need.
4. Writing your Will with an online Will writing service. This is an increasingly popular choice because it is the most affordable and most convenient approach to writing a Will. Over the years Will writing services like the one at LegalWill.co.uk have become more sophisticated and comfortably cope with non-standard family arrangements.
Writing a Will with LegalWills.co.uk
LegalWills.co.uk allows you to write your Will in about 20 to 30 minutes. The cost of a Will is £24.95.
You are guided through 10 sections which cover a description of your family situation, key appointments, and the distribution of your estate including charitable bequests, pet trusts, lifetime interest trusts.
Once your account is set up, you can return at any time to continue to work on your Will. You can also explore some of the added value services like a digital vault to upload important documents, our “lifelocker” service that helps you to maintain an inventory of your assets to help your Executor, and the MyFuneral service that allows you to document your funeral wishes.
At any point, we have online help available and a support team just a phone call away. We do not charge for any support calls.
Dying without a Will is never a good option. We would encourage you to prepare your Will today and update it throughout your life and circumstances change. This advice applies to any family situation.
Tim Hewson is one of the founders of LegalWills.co.uk.
He has over 20 years of experience helping people to write their Will and other estate planning documents. He has been interviewed by many of the major news media outlets and has contributed to articles in most leading publications. He has also contributed to a number of financial planning books.
Throughout his career, Tim has written extensively on the subject of Will writing and estate planning.
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