Where there's a will: New survey reveals majority of Brits are perplexed about estate planning and inheritance

06 July 2021

· Study by Co-op Legal Services shows almost half of Brits (49%) don’t have a will in place and of these, one in ten say they don’t know how to start the process.

· Over a quarter of the people who have created a will due to the pandemic are under the age of 35.

· Myth busting study shows huge gaps in end-of-life estate planning knowledge.

· Over 40% wrongly thought that a spouse automatically inherits their husband or wife’s assets if they pass away

· Two thirds (67%) wrongly thought that if a parent dies, any remaining children automatically inherit their assets.

A new survey by Co-op Legal Services has revealed that almost one in two Brits (49%) are living without a will, meaning they risk losing control over their assets when they pass away.

The study of 2,000 UK adults revealed that one in ten people (9%) haven’t created a will because they don’t know how to start the process, and 7% believe the process is too expensive for them to consider.

When it comes to talking about wills and end of life wishes with loved ones, almost a third of people (31%) say they have never had this conversation with their nearest and dearest and would try to guess what they would have wanted. It seems that a stiff upper lip mentality is still prevalent for many, with 15% of those polled saying that it’s a taboo subject to talk about wills with family.

However, many people have recently considered these conversations and what they want to happen to any of their assets, with 14% of respondents saying they had created a will as a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic, with over a quarter (26%) being below the age of 35.

Many misconceptions around wills and inheritance still exist, so Co-op Legal Services’ study also decided to test the nation on some of the most common myths, with some shocking results:

Myth 1: If a parent dies, any remaining children or stepchildren will automatically inherit any assets and can decide what to do with them without needing a will. FALSE

67% of those polled got this wrong - it’s a common misconception that any estate can automatically be handed down to children or stepchildren. In reality, this can depend on different factors, such as whether the individual is married or in a registered civil partnership and the size of the estate. Also, step-children are not treated the same way as biological or legally adopted children so cannot inherit if there is no valid will in place.

Myth 2: If you have no blood relatives and no will, your estate may be passed on to the Crown. TRUE

31% of those polled didn’t know the correct answer – if no blood relatives exist or are found after 12 years from death, then, with no valid will in place, the Government’s Bona Vacantia Division will administer the estate and the Crown (technically the Duchy of Cornwall) will become the owners of everything that’s remaining.

Myth 3: If someone becomes unable to manage their own affairs during their lifetime, then their executors named in their will can manage their affairs before they’ve died, e.g. making medical decisions and dealing with their finances. FALSE

A huge 77% of those polled didn’t know the correct answer. If someone cannot make decisions about their own finances or medical treatment, another person cannot just assume the position to make these decisions on their behalf – not even their executor named in their will. For this to be able to happen, it is possible to give someone legal authority to make these decisions by appointing them as an attorney under a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA). Without this in place, the only option would be for family members or loved ones to apply to the court to be appointed as the person’s Deputy. This is a long and expensive process, meanwhile, bank accounts could be frozen, making it difficult to cover care costs and daily living expenses.

Myth 4: If someone is married, their spouse automatically inherits their assets, so they don't need a will. FALSE

44% of Brits polled got this wrong. Without a will, inheritance rules recognise someone’s spouse as their main beneficiary, but whether they inherit everything depends on what was owned, whether it was owned solely or jointly, what the total worth is and whether there are any children.

Even if a person is happy for their spouse to inherit all their assets, a will can help confirm other wishes such as, who is going to be responsible for dealing with the estate and making sure everything is done properly but it can also include wishes around their funeral, and what they would like to happen if their spouse has already died before them. There’s so much to consider and a will can help make things clearer and easier for everyone involved.

James Antoniou, Head of Wills and Estate Planning at Co-op Legal Services, says: “It’s troubling to think that so many adults are living without a will. The last year has shown that, sadly, circumstances can change in a heartbeat and it’s essential that the assets you have worked all your life for, go in accordance with your wishes. We’re strongly encouraging people to take control of their estate planning – the earlier the better – and to seek professional guidance to ensure they’re getting the right will for them.

“Despite what people think, the process doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. We know that many of our clients take a great deal of comfort knowing that, should the worst happen, they’ve taken steps to ensure the right people or charities benefit from their estate once they are gone.”

Co-op Legal Services, which is the largest provider of probate services in the UK, has a will recommendation tool to help customers find a will to best suit their needs.

Ends

Notes to editor twentysix conducted this survey through CensusWide on behalf of Co-op Legal Services to 2,000 people aged over 18 across England and Wales during May 2021.

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Co-op Legal Services is part of the Co-op Group which employs approximately 70,000 people and is the UK’s largest mutual business, owned by millions of UK consumers. The Co-op Group was established in 1844 and today, as well as having clear financial and operational objectives, it is a recognised leader for its social goals and community-led programmes