Intestacy Rules in the UK: Dying Without a Will

Writing a Will seems like an upsetting task to tick off from your to-do list. However, it can save your loved ones a lot of pain and hassle if you have a Will in place. Not only can it bring you peace of mind that your wishes will be carried out after you pass away, but it can also take a lot of stress and strain away from your family so they can focus on the grieving process. 

Will Aid has revealed that 56% of adults in the UK haven’t yet written a Will. You can find more information in our other blog “What happens if I die without a Will?” But here, we take a look at what happens when your loved one dies and there is no Will in place…and what you can do about it. 

What happens if my spouse dies without a Will?

If you were married or in a civil partnership, and your spouse or civil partner has no children, you’ll usually inherit the entire estate even if there’s no Will in place. However, if they have children then you will receive the first £270,000 of the estate and half of the remainder, while the children inherit the rest. You will also inherit all the deceased’s personal possessions. 

Here’s a quick example:

A was married to B. A had two children C and D. When A died without a Will she left an estate worth £500,000. B received the first £270,000, leaving £230,000 remaining.  B received half of this (£115,000), and the two children C and D shared the other half (£57,500 each). So B received a total of £385,000 from his wife’s £500,000 estate.

Of course, this is a very simplified example! We always recommend seeking proper legal advice when it comes to Private Client matters.

If you aren’t married to your partner, regardless of whether co-habiting or not, you won’t receive anything from their estate if they didn’t have a Will. But some joint assets, such as a bank account or car, will be passed automatically to you ‘by survivorship.’  Care should be taken if you jointly own a property, however, as this doesn’t always pass by survivorship.  

Who inherits if there is no spouse and no children?

If someone dies and they don’t leave a spouse or any children (or grandchildren, or great-grandchildren etc.), then the estate might still stay in the family.  If the deceased leaves any surviving parents, they will take the estate.  If there are no parents, it will be shared among the siblings (or the children of any deceased siblings). If there aren’t any siblings, nieces, or nephews then the estate goes to any surviving grandparents. If there are no grandparents either, then uncles, aunts, or their children share everything. 

What happens to an estate if there are no living relatives?

If there are no living relatives, the estate passes to the Crown, something known as “bona vacantia.”  No matter how close you were to the deceased, if you aren’t a relative and there is no Will, you aren’t automatically entitled to inherit.  If you find yourself in these circumstances, but believe you have good reason to benefit from the estate, your best option is to seek legal advice.

Who can’t automatically inherit without a Will?

As we can see, under intestacy rules some people can automatically inherit without there being a Will in place. 

It’s essential, however, to keep in mind that many people don’t have any automatic right to a person’s estate.

This includes:

  • Friends, no matter how close
  • Unmarried partners (including unmarried cohabiting partners) 
  • Relations by marriage (e.g. sister-in-law, father-in-law)
  • Step-children if not adopted by the deceased
  • Children of the deceased who have been adopted by somebody else
  • Carers
  • Employees

The people listed above are only entitled to an inheritance if they are named in a Will. 

But I’m not wealthy enough to need a Will

A Will isn’t just about financial assets. A Will can also include childcare arrangements, who will look after your pets and your funeral wishes. 

You can also include digital assets in your Will. This might include social media accounts – specifically who will run them or whether or not you want them deleted. Other digital assets can include photos, videos, films, TV shows, music and documents. 

You should also bear in mind that your Will covers anything that might come to you after you have made it, e.g. an unexpected inheritance or even a lottery win!

Do I really need a solicitor if there isn’t a Will? 

There is nothing to stop you dealing with the estate yourself, though it can be a complex, stressful and time-consuming process. If there isn’t a Will you can still instruct a solicitor to help you with tasks such as making your application to the probate registry, or even dealing with the entire estate on your behalf. 

If someone dies without a Will, it’s a good idea to appoint a solicitor that specialises in probate. They can take the strain from you at a time when you are possibly not feeling up to addressing the financial and practical aspects of estate administration. We especially recommend using a solicitor if you’re not sure what assets the deceased has or if there are complex family relationships. 

Speak to our Private Client team today for initial free advice:

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