What happens if I don't have a will?

When someone dies without leaving a will, their inheritance is divided according to intestacy laws. We'll go over what this entails and who can inherit if a legitimate will isn't in place.

Lydia Blake avatar

Lydia Blake

06 January 2022

In the United Kingdom, about 30 million adults have not written a will. While many would most likely put it off until later in life, it is inescapable that some may pass away before they get the chance to do so.

When a person dies without leaving a will, it is known as intestacy. This is also the label given to those who have a will that isn't well-drafted and doesn't cover their full estate, or who write a will but don't have it witnessed to make it legally binding. When a person dies without leaving a will, the intestacy rules apply.

Rules of intestacy

The rules of intestacy are a collection of rules that control what happens to someone's estate in England and Wales if they die without a valid will. Below, we'll go over some of the most common scenarios to show what might happen if you died without a will.

If I don't have a will, who inherits?

If you have lost a loved one without a will, you're undoubtedly wondering who can inherit their property. We've listed some of the most typical instances below to assist you.

Unmarried, without children 

Close relatives of the deceased inherit the estate in the following sequence of priority:

  • Parents

  • Sisters and brothers

  • Brothers and sisters who are half brothers and half sisters

  • Grandparents

  • Uncles and aunts

  • Aunts and uncles' children (cousins)

Unmarried with children and grandchildren

The estate is distributed equally among the children, with any step children being excluded. The parent's share can be passed down to grandchildren or great-grandchildren if one of the children has already died.

Karen, for instance, was divorced with two children, Matthew and James. When she died without a will, her estate was appraised at £540,000. Because James had already died, Matthew received £270,000, while James's £270,000 portion was passed down to his only son.

If James hadn't had any children or grandchildren, Anne would have gotten his share.

Has children and is married or in a civil relationship

Everything up to the value of £270,000 will be passed on to the surviving partner. If the estate is valued more than £270,000, the partner is entitled to half of the excess. The remainder is divided evenly among the deceased's children.

Dan, for example, was married to Mill and the couple had two children. His fortune was worth £400,000 when he died without a will. Mill received all of his personal belongings as well as the first £270,000 of the estate, leaving £130,000. Mill also received half of this, bringing her total to £335,000. The remaining £65,000 was split evenly between the two kids, who each received £32,500.

Note: If one or more of the children has already died, the parent's share can be passed down to grandchildren or great-grandchildren.

With no children, married or in a civil partnership

Everything will be passed along to the surviving partner. This is also true if the deceased person had stepchildren, as stepchildren do not inherit anything under intestacy laws.

Dealing with an estate where there is no will

You may need to go through probate and file for a grant of letters of administration if you recently lost a loved one who did not leave a will. This will allow you to sell property, close accounts, and distribute assets legally.

In most circumstances, probate is handled by the individual who stands to inherit the most under the provisions of intestacy. The administrator is the title given to this person.

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