Young children and inheritance

The age at which a person can inherit is 18. For any underage beneficiaries, the funds have to be held in Trust until they reach that age.

If for any reason, you decide that your children should inherit at an even later age, you can do so by specifying it in your Will.

Any income generated by the trust fund has to go to the beneficiaries as soon as they reach 18 years of age. Aside from that, the Trustees can choose how the capital and/or income is to be used (e.g. tuition fees) as long as it is to the benefit of the children.

There are certain tax considerations that apply to trusts. If you have any trust arrangements, it would be in your best interests to review any applicable taxes for future planning.

Choosing guardians

If you are a parent and have children under the age of 18, it is worth considering who will be looking after them if anything were to happen to you and your partner. A guardian does not have to be appointed in the Will, but if you don’t then the Court will decide who will take care of your children. There are also some additional requirements if the parents are unmarried, separated or divorced.

Since either parent has the authority to appoint a guardian(s) upon their death, it is common for such appointments to take effect from the death of the second parent. Normally, for very young children – family members are appointed. For older children, family friends can also be appointed.

In most cases, it is best to have a maximum of two guardians, ideally couples instead of having many different guardians. The key consideration is a stable environment for the children, especially during the stressful ordeal of becoming orphaned.

The guardian essentially takes on the parental responsibilities, while the financial responsibilities usually fall under the role of the trustee. You should name any children under the age of 18 in your Will as beneficiaries. Any money that you leave for them will be held in a trust and your nominated guardians can apply to the trustees for any financial expenses required.

What if my circumstances change?

Getting married, either for the first time or re-married will automatically revoke any Will that you may have previously prepared. This applies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. On the other hand, getting divorced does not necessarily cancel the Will, but anything that you left to your ex-spouse will become void unless specific instructions are laid out in the Will to the contrary.

It is recommended for married couples to each have a Will, even if the terms and conditions are exactly the same. You can make ‘Mirror Wills’ which essentially means two similar Wills for spouses or partners.

Laws for unmarried partners

Partners that are not married are not currently recognised by the laws of intestacy, therefore it is vital for unmarried partners to prepare Wills. The laws also do not currently recognise same-sex partners. There is however a provision under the Civil Partnership Act (2005) which allows for same-sex partners to gain legal status to be recognised as registered civil partners. This provision allows for same-sex couples to make claims under the Inheritance Act 1975. This applies to both opposite-sex and same-sex couples.

There are also amendments to the Intestacy provisions which recognise that if a partner dies, then the same sex partner will be treated under the same laws as a surviving spouse would (provided the civil partnership is formally registered).