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What If There's No Will?


When someone dies without a will this is called ‘dying intestate’. When there is no will in place, administering the deceased estate can be become even more complicated. Probate still needs to take place, but the process is slightly different; instead of a named executor, an ‘administrator’ is appointed. This is usually a family member who applies for a Grant of Representation. The administrator will the be responsible for the distribution of the estate.

Intestacy Laws: Who can inherit?

Someone who dies without making a will, or is declared to have an invalid will, is known as an ‘intestate person’. When this happens, the deceased estate is subject to Intestacy Laws. These laws stipulate who can inherit from the estate, and how much.

Intestacy law is very specific about who can inherit what. Intestacy does not allow non-blood family members to inherit – so unmarried partners and any step children will not stand to inherit anything. The laws don’t take into account modern, unconventional family structures but instead. If no surviving blood relatives can be traced then the whole estate will go to the Crown.


Intestacy law also specifies which assets can go to which family members. If a property is jointly owned, it automatically passes to the surviving joint owner. If the property is owned solely by the deceased then it passes to the surviving partner (if they were married or in a civil partnership). The same goes for joint bank and savings accounts – if one owner dies, then the entirety of the money goes to the surviving joint owner. Should there be no surviving partner then the estate goes to the next of kin (for example, children or grandchildren).


In cases where the estate is larger than £250,000 and there are other relatives, then the surviving partner inherits:

  • All property and possessions.

  • The first £250,000.

  • Half of the remaining estate.

Remember: if you are informally separated (e.g. separated but not divorced) then the surviving partner is still entitled to inherit.


As the laws can be quite complex, there is a narrow margin of error and the administrator of the estate will be financially liable for any loss caused by a mistake (even if these were simply honest errors). The administrator also owes a duty of protection to the estate, which could include maintaining the insurance on any properties and ensuring that any payment on any credit accounts or household bills are up to date. 


You should be confident you can carry out the duties of an administrator, and consider how much responsibility — and potentially personal liability — you are prepared to take on.

It’s likely that it could take a long time to complete the distribution of the estate – up to several months or even years. The administrator must be sure that they can devote the necessary time to the task. Remember, when you are administering the estate of an intestate person you may be personally financially liable for any losses incurred due to an error or mistake.

Can non-relatives inherit?

Intestacy laws do not allow people who are not related to the deceased to inherit from the estate. This includes married relatives, unmarried partners, close friends and carers.


If a non-relative is left financially unsupported after the death then they can apply to court for financial provision from the estate (although this provision is in no way guaranteed).

The only way to truly ensure that non-relatives receive what they may be entitled to is to write a will.

Help with intestate estates

As Probate specialists we are intimately familiar Intestacy law and can guarantee that the specifications of the law are followed to the letter. 

If you would like to seek advice about administering the will of an intestate person, or if the validity of a will is in doubt, call us on 0191 567 7244. A consultation is free and there is no obligation to instruct any of our services.

You can also email or complete our Free Online Enquiry and we will be in touch with you shortly.

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