Many people die intestate (That means without making a legal will) because they think their estate will automatically pass to their spouse free of Inheritance Tax (IHT). This is not necessarily correct. Moreover, having a Will in place makes it easier to get a grant of probate and avoids the Statutory Intestacy Rules governing how the estate is distributed.
From 1 October 2014, if an individual is survived by a spouse or civil partner (but no children or more distant relative), the entire estate will go to the surviving spouse or civil partner. Previously, the spouse would only have received the first £450,000 (and half of the excess over £450,000); the other half of the excess would have passed to parents or siblings.
If the deceased individual is survived by a spouse/civil partner as well as children or a more distant relative or relatives, the surviving spouse or civil partner will only receive the first £250,000 (and half of the excess over £250,000). The children will receive the other half of the excess equally between them. Having a Will is thus important for IHT planning, as only the first £325,000 is exempt unless the assets pass to the spouse. Making a Will is also important when couples divorce and there are former partners and children of previous marriages involved.