Dying without a Will in the UK
If you die without leaving a Will in England and Wales, your property, money, assets, and possessions will be shared out according to the Rules of Intestacy. That’s the legal term which means that the state will decide who inherits what from your Estate, in what order, and by what percentage split.
The result of this process can be that the elements that make up your Estate can pass to someone you hadn’t intended to be a recipient or that someone you want to pass things on to receives nothing.
The rules for Scotland and Northern Ireland are slightly different, but there are some common principles.
What are the Rules of Intestacy in England and Wales?
The Intestacy Rules in England and Wales set out a very clear process for what happens when someone dies without a Will.
Applying for Probate in England and Wales
The first stage will be to sort out Probate.
You can learn more about the award-winning Probate Services we offer here.
When a Will has been left, the Executor’s appointed in the Will can apply for a Grant of Probate. This gives them the legal right to deal with someone’s property, money and possessions (their ‘Estate’) when they die.
If someone dies without a Will, whoever is going to deal with their Estate must apply to the Probate Office for ‘Letters of Administration’ before they can then legally deal with the deceased’s Estate.
Probate is then the process of tallying up what the deceased’s Estate is worth once all of their debts have been cleared, including any Inheritance Tax that may be due.
The Probate process for Scotland is different. When dealing with a deceased’s Estate, you may be told that you need to obtain ‘Confirmation’, a legal document from the court, before any money and other property belonging to the deceased, can be released.
However, if someone happens to die without a Will in Scotland, those dealing with the Estate of the deceased will need to apply for a ‘Bond of Caution’ before they can apply for ‘Confirmation of the Estate’.
The Northern Ireland Probate Process also differs from England and Wales. Following a death, an appointed Executor in a Will may need to obtain a Grant of Probate.
Should someone die without leaving a Will, a Grant of Letters of Administration, an official document that allows someone to deal with a deceased person’s Estate, will be required.
The Rules of Intestacy in England and Wales
With Probate sorted, those Estates where someone happens to die without a Will are now subject to the Intestacy Rules.
Our Rules of Intestacy for England and Wales graphic details the process path for the Estate of someone dying without a Will but in summary, if:
The deceased was married or in a civil partnership
If the deceased was married or in a civil partnership:
- Where the Estate value is less than £322,000*, everything passes to the spouse or civil partner, regardless of any children the deceased may have. This includes all of their personal belongings.
- Where the Estate value is greater than £322,000*, the first £322,000* is passed to the spouse or civil partner, with any balance then being divided up as follows:
- 50% of the balance passes to the spouse or civil partner. (This is in addition to the £322,000* already passed to them)
- The remainder of the Estate is divided equally between any surviving children the deceased has
- If the deceased has no children, then the full Estate will pass to the spouse or civil partner of the person who has died
*£322,000 correct as of July 2023 and subject to ongoing revision by the Government of the day.
The deceased was not married or in a civil partnership
- Where the deceased did not have a husband, wife or civil partner, the Intestacy Rules dictate that the Estate must be shared out equally between any surviving children of the deceased. This includes any adopted children.
- If the deceased lived with someone but was not either married to or in a civil partnership with them, no provision is made for the surviving partner through the Intestacy Rules, and consequently, the surviving partner will inherit nothing from the deceased’s Estate.
- Any children of an unmarried partner who have not been legally adopted by the deceased are also excluded from any share of the Estate.
The deceased had no children, was not married, or in a civil partnership
The Intestacy Rules dictate that where the deceased had no children and was not either married or in a civil partnership, the Estate should then pass down the family bloodline until any close relatives or living next of kin are identified.
Again, unmarried partners are excluded from receiving a share of the deceased’s Estate through the Intestacy Rules, not even any personal possessions.
The Intestacy Rules work down the family lineage in the following stages to identify close living relatives as the next of kin of the deceased to receive their inheritance:
- Brothers and Sisters
- Half-Brothers and Sisters (But not Step-Brothers and Sisters)
- Aunts and Uncles
- Half Aunts and Uncles
Finally, if the Estate could not be shared out according to the family lineage above, the Intestacy Rules determine that the entire Estate should pass to The Crown! Property, assets and personal possessions will be sold off, and the funds raised return to the Government coffers.
Surviving Unmarried Partners and Intestacy
Dying Intestate can be both emotionally heart-breaking and financially debilitating for a surviving unmarried partner.
Regardless of the fact that you may have lived happily together for many years and have multiple shared assets and experiences, dying without a Will renders all of that superfluous.
However, it doesn’t mean that you won’t have a claim on the Estate, even if your partner has died Intestate.
Any money you had in joint bank accounts, for example, will automatically pass to you. Likewise, where you can prove assets are jointly owned, you can claim your share of those assets.
Any property owned as Joint Tenants will mean your partner’s share will pass to you under the Rights of Survivorship.
However, if you owned the property together as Tenants in Common, your partner’s share will be shared out according to the Rules of Intestacy. This could mean that a distant relative you don’t know owns half of the property you live in, and you will have an obligation to them to keep their asset maintained and in good order!
If you are not Joint Tenants of the property, you may still have a claim for part of the property. However, this is a complex and drawn-out process with no guarantee of success at the end of it. We would always recommend that you seek legal advice about whether you can make a claim for financial support through an Inheritance Act. This is a claim often made by people who’ve lost a partner who died without making a Will.
If you die without a Will in Scotland and Northern Island, there are variations in the way your Estate is treated when dying Intestate. For more information, visit:
How to Prevent Dying Intestate
We have explained what dying without a Will means and what happens if you die Intestate in the UK.
The good news is that it is a problem that is quick, simple and relatively cost-effective to resolve! Put simply: write a Will!
We have a comprehensive range of Will Writing Services available, from our mirror Wills to a fully bespoke individual Estate Planning Service that can include Protective Wills, Trusts, Guardianship, Lasting Power of Attorney (LPAs), Inheritance Tax Planning and Long Term Care Fee Planning, designed to give you the peace of mind that your family members and loved ones are protected when you die.
More information on Will Writing and Intestacy
We always encourage our Clients to start their Estate Planning journey by joining one of our Free Public Information Webinars or Seminars on the topic of Wills, Trusts and Estate Planning. This provides a great level of knowledge for Clients to then make an informed decision about what they want to achieve from their Estate Planning.
Visit our website, Will Writing Services page, where you can find a wealth of additional information and blog articles on this topic.
First time here?
You may also be interested in some of our other useful and interesting financial topics: