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If you do not make a will, the law will decide which members of your family will benefit from the money and possessions you leave behind, and how much they will get. These are known as the intestacy rules.
If you are married with children, on your death your husband or wife would get all the personal items, a gift of £250,000 and a "life interest" in half of everything else. The other half would go to your children (if any) when they reach 18, whether they are able to manage their finances or not, even if it would affect their state benefits. If you are married without children, the sum passing to your surviving spouse is £450,000 and the rest of the estate passes equally between your spouse and your surviving family.
If you are not married, or are the last remaining parent, on your death all of your money and possessions would be shared between your family in the following order - your children, your parents, your siblings (and their children) and your aunts and uncles (and their children).
If there is no one in the family who can benefit, your entire estate passes to the Crown. To avoid this, you should consider making a very simple will and leaving everything to a friend or charity.
I don't want my child's benefits to be affected by an inheritance, why don't I just leave all of my estate to one of my other children and tell them to look after their brother or sister with a learning disability?
If you do this, you will be relying on your other children to be willing and able to carry out your wishes – and this may not always be possible. For example, they may suffer financial difficulties or go through a divorce. This could mean that part or all of the money intended for the person with a learning disability could be ‘lost', for example, in a divorce settlement or through bankruptcy.
If you do not make proper provision for someone who is a dependant on you, such as your child with a learning disability, the courts can alter your will after your death to make sure that an inheritance is provided to help support them. Local authorities may apply to the courts on behalf of your child with a learning disability if you have left them out of your will.
If you are planning to leave someone out of your will that would expect to benefit, you should include the reasons for doing this in your will or in a separate letter. The courts will not have to act on your decision, but they will consider your reasons.
You will need to decide how much money, or how much of your estate, you would like to allocate to your child with a learning disability.
You may decide that the fairest thing to do is to divide your estate into as many shares as you have children. Then you can make special arrangements for your child with a learning disability by setting up a trust for their share, and provide for your other children in your will.
Alternatively, you may decide that the needs of your child with a learning disability are greater than those of your other children, particularly if your other children are grown up and no longer financially dependent on you.
One possibility is to create a discretionary trust to deal with the whole of your estate and to rely on the trustees of your will to divide this between all your children after your death, depending on their circumstances and needs at the time, but leaving money in the trust to look after the needs of your child with a learning disability.
We need people's continued support to provide services, advice and support to meet people with a learning disability's needs throughout their lives. Any gift – whatever the size – has enormous value to Mencap. Whether you leave us a sum of money, your house, a share of your estate or even all of your estate - we thank you. Gifts like these are vital to the future of Mencap and our work. Your legacy can help us improve the lives of thousands of people.
Find out more about leaving a legacy to Mencap.
Once you have made your will, it is important to review it regularly. Changes in your life such as marriage, divorce and changes in financial circumstances can all affect your will – if your wishes change, it should too. You can make small alterations to an existing will by adding an additional written instruction, which is known as a codicil.
You need to keep your will somewhere safe and let your executors know where it is. If your will cannot be found at the time of your death, then it may be treated as if it does not exist. It's a good idea to keep the original will at your solicitor's office or at your bank, and to have an extra copy at home.