So, they’ve died without a Will. What now?

Death, admin, and the intestate estate. Or, why dying without a Will can be a massive headache.

We’re always going on about how important it is to write a Will (well we would, wouldn’t we).  But it is undeniably one of the most important documents you will ever write. In it you determine how you would like your assets to be distributed and put plans in place to look after your loved ones. However there are millions of us in the UK that are at risk of dying without a Will in place.

Many of us don’t ever get around to writing a Will.In fact, the number of people dying intestate in the UK has reached epidemic proportions, well maybe not epidemic but, research suggests that around 30 million adults in the UK don’t have a Will. That’s a LOT of people. The Citizens Advice Bureau reports that intestacy queries had doubled in 2015 to 3,747 and that’s just those that went to the CAB, many probably just went straight to a Solicitor.  But, what does it mean in practical terms when someone has died without a Will?

Who can deal with the estate?

Only a direct relative of the deceased has a legal right to deal with their estate. The job usually falls to their surviving spouse, children or parents.

Applying to administer the estate

Without a Will in place, the person that administers the estate is called (unsurprisingly) the Administrator. However, before the Administrators can collect the deceased assets they must first apply to the probate registry for a ‘Grant of Letters of Administration’. Once the grant has been obtained the Administrators can then present it to the financial organisations dealing with the deceased accounts, enabling the release of their assets. A grant will only be required when the estate is valued more than £15,000.

Who will inherit without a Will in place?

Rules of Intestacy
The estate of a person who has died without a Will – intestate – will be distributed in accordance with the Governments prescribed rules of intestacy as set out in the Administration of Estates Act 1925 and amended by the Inheritance and Trustees Powers Act 2014.

The rules of intestacy are narrow, unbending and do not take into consideration the complexities of the modern family. So for the estate of someone who had died without a Will the rules of intestacy would dictate the following:

Estate worth less than £250,000

Everything passes to the surviving spouse if there is one.

If no surviving spouse then to children (including legally adopted)

If no children, then:

  • Parents
  • Siblings (whole blood)
  • Half Siblings
  • Grandparents
  • Aunts/Uncles
  • Half-blood Aunts/Uncles
  • If none of the above…. The CROWN gets the entire estate.

Estates worth OVER £250,000

Your CURRENT spouse or civil partner will receive all personal chattels the sum of £250,000 AND half the residual

With any children sharing the remaining half of the residual estate

If there is no spouse or children the estate then shimmies its way down the bloodline, as above – this is when some lucky people get an unexpected windfall from a distant relative that they knew little about. If no blood relative can be found then guess what… the Crown will get it all.

It’s worth noting here that there is a frightening amount in unclaimed assets sloshing about. Millions and millions of pounds. There’s a 30-year window of opportunity to claim the estates before the government put dibs on the money – you can take a look at the current list here it’s worth a look, right?

There’s even £300 MILLION in unclaimed National Lottery winnings (Lotto as it’s now known) 300 million how does that even happen?

Who won’t inherit?

So, that’s who WILL benefit from the estate of someone who has died without a Will. Earlier we mentioned that the current rules of intestacy do not take into consideration the modern family And if you look closely there are some people that would be completely overlooked. Including…

  • unmarried partners
  • grandchildren (unless their parents have died)
  • step children
  • relations by marriage
  • close friends
  • carers

However, even if you can’t inherit under the rules of intestacy, you may be able to apply to the court for financial provision from the estate.

Rearranging the distribution of the estate

It IS possible to rearrange the way an estate is shared out without a Will in place. It’s not easy though. In order to put a Deed of family arrangement or variation in place you MUST get the written agreement of ALL of the people that would inherit under the rules of intestacy. If they all agree you can then share the assets in a way that will include those that would have been overlooked, or change the amount that people will receive. This all must be done within two years of death.

Partial intestacy

Sort of died without a Will, sort of not. This is when someone has left a Will but has not accounted for their entire estate. This normally happens when a Will hasn’t been updated or a badly worded DIY Will. In it, they may have stated who was to inherit their house but omitted to deal with liquid or moveable assets such as savings and/or jewellery. In this instance, the rules of intestacy apply to the assets that have NOT been dealt with in the Will. Although, as you would imagine, these things are never that simple.

In conclusion, dying without a Will in place is…

Well… a bit of a nightmare. One that is easily avoided by, writing your Will! Administering the estate of someone who has died without a Will in place can be complex, require specialist knowledge and has the potential to take a LONG time, possibly years, to bring to a close. Not to mention the additional legal costs that your relatives will incur and, the rules of intestacy have the potential to light the touch paper of family discord that can bubble away for years.

Please note that this is an overview of what can be a complex situation. Should one of your relatives die without a Will in place please seek legal advice.

If you have not written your Will or have one that needs updating, please get in touch on 01322 664885 or email Our friendly team will be happy to answer your questions or put you in touch with your local consultant.


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