Does a Spouse Automatically Inherit Everything?

If you’re married or in a civil partnership, you might have wondered whether your assets – including property, possessions and savings – will automatically pass to your other half when you die.

We’ve answered this question and others in this guide.

Do you need a Will if you are married?

When people die without a Will, it’s known as dying intestate. This means that the state will decide how your assets are divided between your loved ones.

Under the rules of intestacy, your spouse or civil partner will receive the first £270,000 of your estate, and half of whatever is remaining when you die. The rest will be split amongst children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

But while your other half has inheritance rights as a surviving spouse, the best way to ensure all your wishes are followed is to write them up in a legally binding Will. This way, you can set out exactly how you’d like your assets to be divided, or whether you’d like your spouse to be a sole beneficiary.

My partner has died – can I stay in the house?

Most couples who are married or in a civil partnership share a property as joint tenants. Under this agreement, you will automatically inherit the home you live in when your spouse passes away. It will then be up to you whether you’d like to stay in the property or sell it.

If you own your home as tenants in common – meaning you both have a specified share – your spouse’s share will be distributed in line with the wishes set out in their Will. It’s quite common for people to leave their share to a surviving spouse, so that they gain full ownership of the property.

To read more on this topic, take a look at our free joint ownership guide.

Can you inherit debt from your spouse?

You will only be responsible for paying your spouse or civil partner’s debt if your name was attached to it. This would usually apply if you held a shared mortgage or a joint credit card. In these instances, you should let the creditor know of your situation so that the debt can be put solely in your name.

If you’re struggling to pay off a debt, you might be able to negotiate on the repayments. Or if your spouse or civil partner had life insurance, this could be used to relieve some of the financial pressures you’re facing.

Outstanding debts in your spouse’s name will be paid out of their estate. Whoever is acting as executor of the Will is responsible for making sure these debts are paid off, before assets are distributed between beneficiaries.

Do spouses pay inheritance tax?

In the UK, the inheritance tax threshold – or nil rate band – is £325,000. That means that anything above this amount will be taxed at 40%. But what a lot of people don’t know is that if you leave your entire estate to your spouse or civil partner, there won’t be any inheritance tax applied.

Your unused allowance (£325,000) can then be passed on to your spouse or civil partner, which means their tax-free threshold will double. So when they die, your joint assets will be passed down to your children or grandchildren, tax-free, up to the value of £650,000.

Our Wills, estates and probate solicitors understand how important it is that your loved ones are taken care of when you’re gone. They’ll work with you to draft a Will that ensures your other half is financially secure, so you’ll have one less thing to worry about.

To find out more about how we could help you, give us a call or start your enquiry online.

Note: First4Lawyers offers this information as guidance, not advice. Before taking any action, you should seek professional assistance tailored to your personal circumstances.


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