What happens if I die without a Will?

If you die without a Will or with an invalid Will the government will decide who benefits for you. This is known as dying Intestate and who will benefit depends on the size of your estate and the relatives you leave behind.

Before the estate can pass to the correct beneficiaries according to intestacy rules someone (or a group of people), usually relatives of the deceased must apply to the court for Letters of Administration. Once appointed the Administrator(s) will have the duty to follow the law of succession and distribute the estate accordingly. They will personally be responsible to ensure the correct distribution including, if appropriate, paying inheritance tax.

The following order of entitlement applies to deaths on or after 1st February 2009: -

A spouse (including civil partner) who survives will take everything unless:

  1. there is also surviving issue (i.e. children or grandchildren, etc.) in which case the spouse is entitled to the personal chattels, £250,000 and a life interest in half the residuary estate (the children will ultimately benefit equally from this life interest trust on the surviving spouse’s death).The other half of the residue will pass to the children equally when they reach eighteen years of age.
  2. There are no children but parent(s) or brother(s) and sister(s) of whole blood or their descendants, in which case the spouse is entitled to; the personal chattels, £450,000 and half the residuary estate.The other half of the residue will pass to deceased person’s parents or, if they are not living, to their brothers and sisters or their issue.

If there is no surviving spouse (or civil partner) then the deceased person’s descendants will inherit in order of generations. If there are no surviving descendants then the following order of entitlement is followed:

  1. Parents; but if none then
  2. Brothers and sisters of whole blood; but if none then
  3. Brothers and sisters of half blood; but if none then
  4. Grandparents; but if none then
  5. Uncles and aunts of full blood; but if none then
  6. Uncles and aunts of half blood

Should any of the above class of beneficiary be incomplete because one or more have previously died, then the share they would have taken will pass to their children equally (with the exception of the grandparents).

If there are no qualifying relatives surviving the deceased then the Crown takes the whole residuary estate.

Not all of a person’s estate will pass under the rules of intestacy should they die without a Will. For example:

Joint Property – Should a person die with a joint bank account or a house they own jointly with another, the surviving joint owner will automatically become the sole owner of the asset.

Nominated Assets – Often life assurance and pension policies are written in trust and assigned for the benefit of certain nominated individuals, in which case the proceeds are paid directly to them.

Foreign Assets – The above intestacy rules only apply to assets owned in England or Wales. Assets held in other jurisdictions will be subject to different rules.

This information applies to the law of England and Wales only. It is not intended to be legal advice, nor a substitute for seeking appropriate professional advice about the disposal of your assets.

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