58% of the British adult population does not have a will meaning they have no control over what happens to their wealth or possessions when they die. The highest number of people, 89%, are in the 18-24 age range but 78% of 35-44 year olds and 63% of 45-54 year olds and 27% of those aged 55 don’t have a Will, according to research from wealth manager Tilney.

Tilney points out that intestacy , ie someone dying without making a Will means that if they have a spouse and direct descendants (children, grandchildren) it flows through them, if not then it goes up via your parents, or if they are deceased then out via brothers or sisters, if such exist, although the rules are slightly different between England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Without a will:

  • If people are in relationships but not married or in a civil partnership, they will inherit nothing without a Will in place providing them assets, potentially jeopardising the roof over their head.
  • Not having a Will could also mean an elderly surviving parent gets all the assets rather than a sibling which may in turn mean more of the parent’s estate will become subject to inheritance tax.
  • Even if someone is married, and the assets pass to their partner, without a Will their financial future could be at risk if assets are not ring fenced for them, eg the former partner might remarry and later get divorced with their ex-partner receiving assets that could have benefited the children.
  • If someone with children dies, and there is no other parent alive, they won’t have a say in who brings up their children unless there is a Will to stipulate who should look after them.

Apathy appears to be the driver of so little preparation. When asked why people do not have a will 38% said they simply hadn’t “got around to it yet”. 32% said they didn’t have enough assets to write one and 24% said they were too young to worry about one, although 71% of people say this were aged 18-24.

Ian Dyall, head of estate planning at Tilney, said: “There seems to be the perception that your estate will automatically go to whom you want upon your death. This is far from the truth. The figures from this research show that a worrying number of people have not made a Will seemingly out of pure apathy and even when they have one, many do not review these regularly. If you do not leave a Will, you simply leave problems for your loved ones including delays and confusions as to where you want your money to go and potentially someone who you would not wish to receive your assets will land a windfall. There are also instances where the windfall could cause a problem, such as an elderly parent who has been gifting money to avoid inheritance tax.

“Death is of course one of the few certainties in life and so it really does make sense to think about the financial consequences well ahead. While a Will is a vital component of this, exposure to inheritance tax – which last year generated a record £5.2 billion for HM Treasury – can be mitigated by actions taken while you are alive such as making life time gifts, funding pensions, establishing trusts or investing in assets subject to Business Relief. Financial advisers and solicitors therefore both have vital roles to play in helping people ensure their assets are passed on to who they want as tax efficiently as possible.”