If you are over 18, (or if married, over 16) and have property or children, you should make a Will. A Will is the record of your wishes in respect of how you want your affairs dealt with and who you want to inherit all your worldly goods (your estate). It must be considered on marriage or entering a civil partnership (or on the break-up of relationships), or the birth of a child, or acquisition of property.
Dying without a Will is referred to as Intestacy and the Succession Act determines who is your next of kin to inherit your property. If you fail to make a formal Will, your wishes may be ignored. For example, if you die without having made a Will (intestate), your spouse or civil partner will be your sole heir on your death if you have no children. Yet, you may be supporting your younger siblings or elderly parents from a family business or farm, given to you by your parents on that understanding.
If there are children (and children include non-marital biological children), your spouse or Civil Partner gets 2/3rds of your Estate and your children will share in the remaining 1/3rd. This can cause legal difficulties where your children are under 18 and your surviving spouse may not be able to sell property without a court order.
Where there is no spouse, it goes equally to the children. The rules of inheritance get more complicated where the next of kin is more distant, but the common experience is that the beneficiaries were unintended!
One restriction on making a Will is that you are obliged to give your spouse or civil partner half your estate, or one-third if you have children (this is called a ‘legal right share’). Marriage revokes a Will. While Divorce or Dissolution of a Civil Partnership means the former spouse or civil partner is no longer entitled to Succession Act rights, it does not cancel or revoke a Will. When you divorce or dissolve a civil partnership, you should make a new Will. If not, property may go by Will to a former spouse (where there is no remarriage), even though there are no intestate inheritance rights.
As succession is complex, you should always use a Solicitor to draw up your Will. You should never attempt to use an ‘on-line’ or pre-printed ‘Stationary Shop’ Will, because, in addition to the legal complexities, there are strict legal rules on how a Will is executed. Also, your Will must be clear and unambiguous, as you won’t be around to explain your intentions when it is read!