What happens if I die without a Will?

Feb 28, 2023 | Wills & Estates

Of course no-one likes thinking or talking about dying but, a bit like taxes, it is a fact of life that is difficult to avoid. Therefore, frank conversations with family and your solicitor can give you peace of mind and ensure your wishes will be carried through. What is essential in this regard, of course, is that your wishes are accurately recorded in a Will.

Not having a valid Will can have lots of unintended consequences and can lead to family disagreements. Sorting the estate can be complicated, take a long time and cause unnecessary distress. Below we discuss the ramifications of dying intestate – without a Will.

Who inherits when I die?

If you do not have a legally valid Will that covers all your estate, the law in England and Wales has rules about who automatically inherits and who is not entitled to inherit your property, money and assets. The rules of intestacy place relatives in an order of priority which is basically: spouse, children, parents, siblings, other relatives.

Where there is a surviving spouse but no children, your spouse will inherit everything. However, the rules of intestacy do not recognise unmarried partners, so a surviving partner who was not married or in a civil partnership has no automatic right to inherit.

If there were children, the spouse will get the first £270,000 of the estate, all of the personal possessions and everything else will be split 50:50 with the surviving children in equal proportions, so if there are two children each will get 25% of the remainder of the estate.

Ex partners and spouses, who have separated but not divorced, would still be entitled to your estate as described above for a legal spouse, if you die without a Will.

So, without a Will your blood relatives and ex will inherit even if that was not your intention. After whole blood relatives are provided for, half-blood relatives are considered. If you have no living relatives and die without a Will everything in your estate will go to the Crown.

Who is a personal representative?

When someone dies without a Will there is no-one with immediate authority to act as their personal representative. Inheritance laws decide who can act as the administrator of the estate. Usually, it will be your spouse but there is an order of relatives who may apply to the Probate Registry for a grant of letters of administration.

The administrator is responsible for transferring property, paying taxes owed and distributing the assets of the deceased person. They can be held personally financially liable for any losses or mistakes, so it would be preferable to name an executor in your Will rather than just having this job lumped on your grieving spouse.

What if I my Will is invalid, incomplete or out of date?

As we have discussed, it is really important to have an up to date Will that is legally valid. It is also important that it covers all of your estate, as otherwise anything left out of the Will, will be treated as described above, according to the rules of intestacy. It is recommended practice that you reconsider your Will every five to ten years or after a major life event, such as marriage, divorce, having children or a family bereavement. If you do not update your Will when you marry it will be considered invalid and your estate will be subject to the intestacy rules.

What happens to my children?

Should both parents pass away leaving children under 18 years of age, a guardian will have to ensure they are looked after. Without a Will stipulating who you have chosen as a guardian this matter could be decided by the family courts.

Any assets left to your children are ‘in trust’ until they are 18, and your Will would normally nominate trustees to safeguard your children’s inheritance. Without a Will you cannot set up a trust for your children and appoint trustees.

What about a co-owned house?

It depends whether the property is owned as tenants in common or as joint tenants. If you are joint tenants, in the absence of a Will your share will automatically go to your joint tenant. However, if you are tenants in common, your share will be allocated according to the intestacy rules. If you own a property abroad the rules of the country where it is situated will apply, so it may be a good idea to have two Wills drawn up, one in the UK and one which is made in accordance with the rules where the property is located.

If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice, please contact us on (023) 9225 9822 or email [email protected]

Recent Posts



O’Hara Properties & Estates is an independent estate agents with a wealth of experience selling property in the Waterlooville and surrounding areas.