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/ 04 Mar 2021

Finding Alice: How to Avoid the Drama of Intestacy

The recent ITV comedy/drama starring Keeley Hawes concerns the emotional and legal fallout following the unexpected death of Harry, her unmarried partner of 20 years, who died without making a will.

As the title character Alice has discovered she has no right to a share of Harry’s estate or to deal with his affairs.

Prue Abrahams

Senior Associate

Private Client

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Prue Abrahams looks at intestacy.

When someone dies without making a will, an intestacy occurs. Part IV Administration of Estates Act 1925, as amended by the Inheritance and Trustees’ Powers Act 2014 provides for how an intestate estate is distributed and you may be surprised that there is no provision for an unmarried partner. If the deceased had children then they are the ones entitled, but if they died without children, then their estate will pass to their parents, and if they have died, then it passes to the deceased’s siblings and so on. An unmarried partner does not get a look in.

They may also find that they are not entitled to the deceased’s partner’s pension or to receive anything from a life insurance policy (unless specifically stipulated).

Any assets that were held jointly will usually pass to the surviving partner, but it is possible, in the case of  e.g. a joint bank account  that some of the money in the account might be claimed as part of the deceased partner’s estate. If property is legally owned as joint tenants then this should pass by survivorship to the partner but if the property is owned as tenants in common, the deceased person’s ‘share’ passes by the intestacy provisions.

If you have been living with the deceased as their husband or wife for at least two years prior to their death you are eligible to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 for provision from the estate, but there is no guarantee of success.

This would involve making a formal claim through the courts which can be a complicated and time-consuming matter that will almost inevitably involve solicitors and legal costs. Then, even if the application to the courts is successful, an unmarried partner is not exempt from Inheritance Tax in the way that married partners are, so anything they receive above the tax free threshold (currently £325,000) would be subject to Inheritance Tax at the prevailing rate of 40%.

The need for unmarried couples to make wills and put provisions in place to provide for their partner on death is therefore vital.

Hanne & Co have an experienced, knowledgeable, and dedicated Wills, Trusts and Probate team which includes full members of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP). We can help to prepare a will to incorporate your wishes and provide for your partner or help you to make a claim if you are a dependant who has been left without reasonable financial provision following a death.

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