What Happens If You Die Without a Will?

What Happens If You Die Without a Will?

By In Blog, Wills On 10/09/2020

If you die without a Will, your assets will be distributed amongst your next of kin. The law decides who inherits from your estate and in what proportion. This might not correspond with your personal wishes.

What happens when you die without a Will?

When you die without a Will, you are said to have died intestate. There are laws in place that dictate what should happen in this situation. These are known as the Rules of Intestacy.

Under the Rules of Intestacy, everything you own in your sole name is distributed amongst your next of kin. This includes your property, savings and personal belongings. The law places your relatives into an order of priority. Those closest to the top of the list receive the greatest provision.

Priority is given in the following order:

  1. Married spouses and civil partners
  2. Children
  3. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren
  4. Parents
  5. Siblings
  6. Half-siblings (where one parent is shared)
  7. Grandparents
  8. Aunts and uncles
  9. Nephews and nieces

If no relatives can be found, your estate will pass to the Crown instead.

Who inherits from my estate if I die without a Will?

Exactly who inherits from your estate, and in what proportion, depends on what relatives you leave behind and the value of your estate.

For example, if you leave behind a married partner and no children, your spouse will receive your entire estate. But if you leave behind a married partner and children, your spouse will receive the first £270,000 and half the remainder. The other half is given to your children.

These complexities make the Rules of Intestacy quite difficult to understand. The website even has a calculator so you can work out who will inherit your possessions, should you die without a Will.

What about jointly owned property?

All your assets are subject to the intestacy rules, apart from those owned as joint tenants – but only if the co-owner is still alive. In this situation, your share of the asset passes directly to the other owner under the Rule of Survivorship. For instance, if you own a property as joint tenants with your partner and you die first, the property will pass into your partner’s sole name.

If you own property as tenants in common, your share of the property will be distributed according to the intestacy rules, rather than passing to the surviving owner(s).

Consequences of dying without a Will

A large percentage of the population does not have a valid Will in place. Many think that any wishes expressed during their lifetime will be taken into account. However, this is a misconception. If you die without a valid Will, the intestacy laws determine who inherits what. This can lead to some unforeseen – and unwelcome – consequences.

Unmarried partners receive nothing

There is no such thing as a common law spouse in England and Wales. Because of this, the Rules of Intestacy do not provide for unmarried partners. This means that unless you make a Will stating otherwise, your partner will not receive anything when you die. The only exception is if you own a property together as joint tenants.

Estranged spouses can still inherit

The law determines that your husband, wife or civil partner should receive all, or the majority of, your estate. This applies, even if you are separated. This could lead to a scenario in which your estranged husband or wife receives the lion’s share of your estate, even though you have not been in a relationship for years.

Your children may be disinherited

Because your spouse will inherit the majority of your estate, you may find that your children are accidentally disinherited, should you fail to make a Will. This often happens when people marry but have children from a previous relationship. Remember, your spouse will inherit the first £270,000 of your estate. If there is anything left, your children will only get half the remainder.

Your wishes may not be fulfilled

It does not matter what promises you have made during your lifetime. Unless you make a Will, the Rules of Intestacy apply. This means that important decisions are taken out of your hands. This includes the way in which your estate is distributed, what gifts are made to friends and relatives, and who should be appointed as legal guardians for your children.

Make a Will today

To ensure your wishes are fulfilled, you need to make a legally sound Will. To get started, please call our Sunderland solicitors on 0191 567 7244 and we’ll be happy to help you. 

If you would rather contact us online, email us at and one of our team will be in contact with you shortly.

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