Consumer: Where there's a will, there's a way to avoid a legal nightmare
Have you made a will? If the answer is no, you're not alone, you're among a staggering 68% of the Northern Ireland population that hasn't. And that worrying figure makes us the top region in the UK for adults who die intestate.
But why is a will so important?
Unmarried partners have no automatic right to each other's estate on death.
Under intestacy rules, anything left behind could pass to the family of the deceased, rather than their other half.
Law Society president Michael Robinson said he has dealt with cases where people have cohabited for many years but received nothing.
"There is no such thing as a common law wife or husband," he said. "That means if you're not married and your partner dies, you do not inherit your partner's assets.
"I acted for an elderly man who died without a will. He had been living with an elderly lady, his life partner.
"But all his money went to his brothers in Canada who he hadn't seen for 30 years. She got nothing."
Even if you are married, not having a will in place can cause difficulties for those left behind.
"Most married people think that their husband or wife will inherit everything on their death but they don't," Mr Robinson said. "The surviving spouse gets the first £250,000 of the estate, plus personal possessions. The rest is split, with half the balance going to the children and the rest held in a life interest trust for the spouse, who loses access to the cash. If there are no children, the surviving spouse keeps the first £450,000 plus half the balance. The rest goes to the deceased's family."
Mr Robinson said that writing a will ensures your estate will be distributed the way you intended.
"Simple basic wills can be drawn up in a solicitor's office for between £50 and £100, although more complex estates may require more detailed work, which will increase the cost," he said.
"You're mad not to have a will. It only takes half-an-hour to do and you can update it regularly as your circumstances change during your life.
"There is legislation that allows you to go to court and argue about it, but that's a complex, expensive, messy thing to do. It is much easier to make a will."
To speak to a local solicitor please visit www.lawsoc-ni.org.
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