“Not necessarily”, is the answer to the question, ‘Will my wife inherit my estate?’ I have found that there’s a widely-held misconception that if one half of a married couple dies, the survivor will automatically inherit everything, whether or not the person leaves a will. It is true to say that if a married couple does not have children and one of them dies, the surviving husband or wife will inherit everything. However, if you have children, the legal position is very different.
Under the intestacy laws, if you die without a will your spouse will receive the first £270,000 in your estate, plus your personal possessions and 50% of whatever remains. So far, so good. However, the other 50% will be held on trust for your children at age 18. This is where the intestacy laws diverge from what I find that married couples typically want. Usually, if the family’s situation is straightforward, both of a married couple will leave everything to each other outright, on the first death. On the second death, often everything is left on trust for the children, equally.
Much though most people are keen for their children to inherit from them ultimately, hardly anyone wants this to happen on the first death, potentially leaving the surviving spouse short of money and in a difficult position. This can be practically inconvenient for the surviving spouse, who would probably have preferred to have full control of all of the funds for the rest of their life. Many people also take the view that age 18 is much too young for the children to be put in charge of a substantial sum of money, preferring to defer the age of inheritance in their will until the children are older and more mature.
If you have children and are asking yourself “Will my wife inherit my estate?”, it is important to be aware that the only way to ensure that (a) your wife will inherit your whole estate, and (b) your children will not inherit large sums at age 18, is to make a will.
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