Someone who has no living relatives or estranged from their family, what are the main things to consider when writing a Will?

When a person dies without leaving a valid will, the property will be shared out according to certain rules.  This is called the rules of intestacy. If you have no living relatives, the estate passes back to the Crown which is called Bona Vacantia.  To make sure you decide where your money and assets pass to, it is important to write a will and obtain the correct advice.  If you do not have any living relatives, you may want to donate to a charity that you have a special connection to or alternatively you could distribute your assets to your close friends ensuring your items with special value pass to people who are most likely to enjoy those memories.

People that are estranged from their family should think about the wider implications and their will being subject to a challenge under the Inheritance 1975 Act which is explained further below.  This is why it is particularly important to seek advice from a Solicitor if you would like to leave a family member out of your will.

Who can be appointed as Executor of the Will if there are no family members to appoint?

An Executor of a will can be anyone aged 18 or above and can be someone that is mentioned in the will as a beneficiary.  An Executor of a will does not need to be a family member but needs to be someone you can trust and a person with the capacity to handle the responsibility.

An Executor of a will is someone who is responsible with handling your estate and can include duties such as selling a property, paying off debts and distributing assets as directed.

A professional can be appointed to manage your estate as an Executor for example a Solicitor who will charge a set fee.  Professionals are regulated by law and have a fiduciary duty to ensure they adhere to your wishes and act in the best interests of your beneficiaries.

How can a solicitor help someone who has no family plan their future care?

Having an estate plan in place is important for everyone regardless of whether you have family or not or you don’t believe you have a lot of money or possessions to leave.  Estate planning is not just about distributing your assets when you are dead but to maintain the relationships you established in your lifetime.   Assets with sentimental value, should be passed to people who are likely to enjoy those moments.  Estate planning can also include giving away items now whilst you are still alive to your friends or to charities.

A Solicitor can help with various services in relation to future care such as

  • Wills
  • Inheritance tax planning
  • Trusts
  • Lasting powers of attorney

Wills, Trust and Probate Solicitors can help give you the peace of mind for the future whatever your stage in life and can help put in place strategies to suit your immediate and future needs.

What is an Inheritance Act Clause and how does it work?

Under the Inheritance Act, there are certain people who can make a claim against an estate as follows: –

  • A spouse or civil partner
  • Former spouse or civil partner
  • Cohabitee
  • Child of the deceased
  • Dependant of the deceased

An Inheritance Act Clause can help make a provision for those who

  • Have not inherited as a result of intestacy
  • Have been left out the will entirely
  • Have not been left as much as they need

The Inheritance Act enables the court to vary the distribution of the estate for various family members.  There is no definitive way to prevent a claim however there are steps that you may wish to consider when writing your will including an expression of wishes which can explain why no provision or limited provision has been made for the particular individual. The benefit is that this is a statement from the person making the will explaining how they have made that decision to exclude or limit someone’s entitlement.

What advice would you give to someone who is estranged from or has no family when it comes to writing a will?

It is still important to seek advice from a Solicitor even if you have no family or estranged from your family to make sure your wishes are adhered to and your assets go to the people you care about.  A will can also help reduce the amount of inheritance tax payable on the value of the property and money you leave behind.  If you do not write a will, everything you own will be shared out in the standard way defined by law which isn’t always the way you might want.

Particularly if you are estranged from your family, it is important to seek advice from a Solicitor when you come to write your will so that they can provide you with the relevant steps you need to consider.

Written by Robyn Reid for The Law Society’s #SolicitorChat on Dying Matters. For more information on any of the points covered, contact Robyn Reid here.