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“If anything should happen to me….”

“If anything should happen to me….”

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

The phrase “if anything should happen to me…” is a very common euphemism. Frankly, the first word should be “when” not “if”. COVID-19 has concentrated the minds of many on their own mortality and may be a timely reminder that will planning is really something which, by definition, cannot be put off forever. Surveys indicate that less than half of those in the UK have written wills, and even for those over 55 the figure is only around 75%. For various reasons (superstition, indecision, cost or simply a preference for displacement activity) farming clients are still often reluctant to deal with this issue.

It’s perhaps helpful to remind ourselves of the recent revisions to the Intestacy Provisions. For intestate estates deaths after 6 February 2020 they are as follows:

  • a surviving spouse or civil partner takes the first £270,000 and all personal possessions
  • a surviving spouse also takes half of the remainder
  • the residue is then shared between surviving children (on attaining the age of 18)
  • in certain circumstances grandchildren, siblings, parents and remoter relations may inherit
  • ultimately if there are no living relatives, the estate will go to the Crown
  • spouses who are separated but not divorced will be entitled to inherit as above, but cohabitees have no such right of inheritance
  • jointly owned property will normally pass by survivorship, outside the scope of these rules

Whilst the intestacy rules may work for very simple estates, they will rarely fit into a farming estate, much less into today’s world of second and third marriages, cohabitation, estranged relatives and step children, nor will they adequately cover practical issues where children are involved. Aside from the separate issue of guardianship, children will inherit under the intestacy provisions at the age of 18. At this age not everyone has the judgement or experience to handle substantial sums as soon as they leave school, and the attractions of fast cars and slow racehorses present themselves. Writing a will with independent trustees, and perhaps guidance on releasing capital over a longer period may prove a wiser course of action in the long run.

The phrase “making a will won’t kill you” has stood the test of time. For those with no will, or indeed those whose wills have not recently been reviewed, the gradual ending of the COVID-19 lockdown might prove the perfect opportunity to rectify the position, and to take professional guidance, not only on the practical issues, but also on the Inheritance Tax (IHT) implications. An appropriately crafted will should fit in with a farming strategy, minimise or defer IHT and avoid unexpected consequences for those left behind.

Our advisors are always available to provide help and advice. Please contact your usual MHA Larking Gowen contact or get in touch via email.

Stephen Coby

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