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What happens when somebody dies without a Will?

When somebody passes away and they have not left a valid Will, this is known as dying intestate. The deceased’s estate is divided in accordance with the Rules of Intestacy. These rules determine who inherits – this depends on what surviving family the deceased has and also, the size of the estate. Only married or civil partners and some other close relatives can inherit under the Rules of Intestacy. This means that dying without a valid Will could result in important people, such as unmarried partners and step-children, being ignored when the estate is distributed.


You can find out who is entitled to a share of someone’s money, property and possessions if they die without making a Will by visiting the following link: https://www.gov.uk/inherits-someone-dies-without-will.


If somebody is married or in a civil partnership at the time of death and they do not have any surviving children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren, then their partner will inherit the whole of their estate.


If somebody is married or in a civil partnership and they pass away leaving a partner and children, then the estate will be split. The partner will inherit all the personal property and belongings of the person who has died and the first £250,000 of the estate. Anything on top of £250,000 is divided in two. The first half goes to the surviving spouse/civil partner, and the other half goes to the deceased’s children in equal shares when they reach the age of 18. It is important to note that this could potentially create a situation whereby the surviving partner does not automatically inherit the family home.


People who are married or registered civil partners do not have to pay any Inheritance Tax on money or property they inherit. However, this does not apply to children, so it is possible that Inheritance Tax could be payable, if the estate is over the threshold. This is something that should be considered and highlights the importance of preparing a Will.


Cohabiting couples have no right to inherit their partner’s estate, if they die without leaving a Will. In this circumstance, biological children would take the whole of the deceased’s estate in equal shares when they reach 18 years old. If there are no children, then the deceased’s parents would inherit. If the deceased’s parents had predeceased them, then the deceased’s siblings would inherit. The potential people to inherit would carry on with blood relatives. If there are no surviving blood relatives who can inherit under the Rules of Intestacy then the estate passes to the Crown. This is known as bona vacantia. There are currently over 8,200 unclaimed estates and it is estimated that the Crown will receive a staggering £1 billion per year, if not more from unclaimed estates.


Not only does a Will dictate who you would like to inherit, it also appoints Executors to manage your estate. The Executors role comes into force as soon as you pass away. If you do not have a Will, then there is nothing anybody can do until the Grant of Representation has been received. The Grant of Representation is a court issued document which proves the representative has authority to deal with the deceased’s estate. This can take between 6 – 8 months to obtain.


If you have children, it is even more crucial to prepare a Will. You can appoint guardians in a Will and this is particularly important if you are a single parent. If you have a Residence Order then your guardianship appointment will supersede the other parent’s rights of parental responsibility. This is another really significant factor to take into consideration.  


Preparing a Will is important for various reasons, as outlined above.  Dying Intestate is likely to mean that your estate will not pass to who you want and your wishes may not be fulfilled. To find out more information about our Wills service please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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