When someone dies without writing a will, their estate is shared out following the rules of intestacy. Here, we’ll cover what this means and who can inherit when there isn’t a valid will in place.
In the UK, there are over 30 million adults who haven’t written a will. And while many are probably putting it off until later life, it’s inevitable that some people will die before they ever get the chance to make one.
When someone dies without writing a will, they are known as ‘intestate’. This is also the name given to people who have a poorly written will that doesn’t cover the whole estate, or people who write a will but don’t get it signed by witnesses to make it legally binding. In cases where the person who died didn’t make a will, the rules of intestacy come into play.
What are the rules of intestacy?
The rules of intestacy are a set of laws in England and Wales that define what happens to someone’s estate if they die without a valid will. Below, we’ll cover the most common scenarios to explain what would happen to your estate if you died without a will.
Who inherits if there is no will?
If you’ve recently lost a loved one and there was no will, you probably have questions about who can inherit their estate. To help you out, we’ve explained some of the most common scenarios below.
Married or in a civil partnership with no children
The surviving partner will inherit everything. This is also the case if the person who died had stepchildren, as stepchildren don’t stand to inherit anything under the rules of intestacy.
Married or in a civil partnership and has children
The surviving partner will inherit everything up to the value of £270,000. If the estate is worth more than £270,000, the partner also inherits half of everything over this value. The rest is then shared equally between the deceased’s children.
For example: John was married to Susan and had two children. When he died without a will, his estate was worth £400,000. Susan inherited all his personal possessions and the first £270,000 of the estate, which left £130,000. Susan also inherited 50% of this, giving her a total of £335,000. The remaining £65,000 was then shared equally between the two children, who received £32,500 each.
Note: If one or more of the children has already died, grandchildren or great-grandchildren can inherit their parent’s share.
Unmarried and has children or grandchildren
The estate is shared equally between the children, not including any step-children. If any of the children has already died, grandchildren or great-grandchildren can inherit their parent’s share.
For example: Linda was unmarried and had two children, Anne and Michael. When she died without a will, her estate was worth £540,000. Anne inherited £270,000 but, because Michael had already passed away, his £270,000 share was passed down to his only son.
Note: If Michael didn’t have children or grandchildren of his own, his share would also have been inherited by Anne.
Unmarried and has no children
The estate is inherited by the deceased’s close relatives in the following order of priority:
Brothers and sisters
Half brothers and half sisters
Aunts and uncles
Children of aunts and uncles (cousins)
How to deal with an estate when there is no will
If you’ve recently lost a loved one and they didn’t leave a will, you may need to go through probate and apply for a grant of letters of administration. This will give you the legal authority to sell property, close accounts and distribute assets.
In most cases, the person who stands to inherit the most under the rules of intestacy is responsible for dealing with probate. This person is known as the administrator.
How to apply to be an administrator?
Probate is only needed after around 50% of deaths in the UK, so the first thing to do is find out whether probate is required for your situation.
Call Farewill on 020 3695 2090 today for a free consultation. We can help you work out if you need to apply for probate in just a few minutes. And if you do, we'll give you a quote over the phone for our fixed-price probate service.
At the end of the process, if you’re the person entitled to apply, you'll be granted the rights of administrator. This will allow you to access the estate and distribute assets according to the laws of intestacy. If the estate is complex or you don't have time to deal with it, we can also talk about our Complete Probate service over the phone.
What are the rules of intestacy?