Most people want to bestow their wealth upon whom they please, usually making provision for their loved ones, which is why they make a Will.
A Will is a binding testamentary document (one that creates, removes or transfers a right to, or interest in, an asset or property) that enables a testator (the person who has made the will) to dispose of their estate (their assets and property) to the beneficiaries they choose.
Put simply, it is the formal document that sets out what you want to happen to your possessions and property after death.
Because it is a legal document, a Will is binding, and the appointed executors have no choice but to follow it. Of course, it can only come into effect after the death of the testator and it can always be revoked up to that point.
If you die intestate – which means without a valid Will – then the law has control over your assets. Your property and possessions are distributed according to the rules of intestacy – which of course may mean that they are distributed just as they would have been had you made a Will. Often, however, there are differences. People may want to leave money to charity, to individuals outside their family, or even to exclude certain people from inheriting at all.
If your Will is valid, but does not account for your entire estate (known as partial intestacy), the unaccounted for assets are distributed according to the rules of intestacy which can create a long, difficult process. If an individual dies intestate and has no family, then their estate goes automatically to the Crown.
Probate is different from a Will. It is the legal process that is gone through to deal with someone’s estate after their death and is necessary for around 50% of deaths in the UK. When applying for probate, the executors apply to the government to receive a document – the ‘Grant of Probate’ – which allows them access to the deceased’s estate so that they can collect the assets and distribute them to the beneficiaries. So, technically, probate isn’t the actual carrying out of the tasks that need to be completed after someone has died, it just refers to obtaining the Grant so that the tasks can be carried out.
Applying for probate may still have to happen whether there is a Will or not. If the estate is valued at less than £10,000 or the deceased’s assets are jointly owned, probate is less likely to be required.