What Hap­pens If You Die without a Will?

Black and white photo of person walking on a street in a big city
Catrin, UK Solicitor
16/05/2024 ● 3 minutes
In the UK, if you pass away without a will, your estate is dis­trib­uted based on es­tab­lished legal rules, which may not ne­ces­sar­ily align with your wishes. This can sig­ni­fic­antly affect your loved ones and the legacy you leave behind.

In this art­icle, we will ex­plore the im­plic­a­tions of dying without a will, a legal situ­ation known as “in­test­acy”.

We’ll define in­test­acy, out­line how assets are typ­ic­ally di­vided among re­l­at­ives ac­cording to the law, and dis­cuss the im­port­ance of having a will to ensure your estate is handled as you would prefer.

Dying without a Will in Prac­tice

In­test­acy is what hap­pens when someone dies without having made a will. This means there's no writ­ten in­struc­tion on how to dis­tribute their be­long­ings, money, or prop­erty.

So, what hap­pens if you die without a will in the UK? Your estate will be shared out ac­cording to cer­tain rules, known as the rules of in­test­acy.

These rules decide who should be­ne­fit from your estate, which can lead to un­ex­pec­ted and some­times un­wanted out­comes.

Who is Af­fected By In­test­acy?

In­test­acy primar­ily im­pacts the de­ceased's im­me­di­ate family - spouses, chil­dren, and other close re­l­at­ives.

Under UK law, these re­l­at­ives are the first in line to in­her­it the estate, but ex­actly who gets what and how much they re­ceive can vary widely de­pend­ing on the family struc­ture and the size of the estate.

For ex­ample, spouses may in­her­it most, if not all, of the estate if there are no chil­dren. However, if there are chil­dren, they might also re­ceive a sig­ni­fic­ant por­tion, which can reduce the spouse's share.

Tail­ored Last Will – Ready to Upload in 10 Minutes

How Are Assets Dis­trib­uted Without a Will in the UK?

When it comes to dis­trib­uting assets, the UK law fol­lows a set hier­archy:

  1. Spouses and Civil Part­ners: They typ­ic­ally re­ceive the first por­tion of the estate up to a cer­tain value, and might also get a life in­terest in half of the re­main­ing estate, which they can use during their life­time but cannot pass on.
  2. Chil­dren: If there is any estate left after the spouse's share, it is di­vided among the chil­dren. If a child has died before the parent, that child's chil­dren (the grand­chil­dren) may in­her­it in their place.
  3. Par­ents, Sib­lings, and Other Re­l­at­ives: If there is no spouse or chil­dren, the estate may go to other family mem­bers, in­clud­ing par­ents, sib­lings, or nieces and neph­ews, de­pend­ing on who is still alive.

This system makes sure that your assets are passed on to your family even if you haven't spe­cified your wishes in a will, but the in­test­acy pro­cess might not re­flect your actual wishes. That's why it's im­port­ant to con­sider making a will, es­pe­cially if you have spe­cif­ic ideas about who should re­ceive your assets after you're gone.

Com­plex­it­ies in Asset Dis­tri­bu­tion

When someone dies without a will, the pro­cess of di­vid­ing their assets can get com­plic­ated, es­pe­cially in fam­ilies that don't fit the tra­di­tion­al mould. For in­stance, blended fam­ilies, where there are chil­dren and per­haps stepchil­dren from pre­vi­ous re­la­tion­ships, can face chal­lenges.

The rules of in­test­acy might not re­flect the de­ceased's wishes on how they wanted their stepchil­dren or former spouses to be­ne­fit, which can lead to emo­tion­al ar­gu­ments and hurt feel­ings.

Sim­il­arly, for un­mar­ried part­ners, the in­test­acy laws can be par­tic­u­larly harsh as they don’t usu­ally re­cog­nise part­ners who were not leg­ally mar­ried or in a civil part­ner­ship. This can result in the part­ner re­ceiv­ing noth­ing, with the estate passing to the next of kin, such as chil­dren, par­ents, or even sib­lings and dis­tant re­l­at­ives.

In cases where there are no ob­vi­ous heirs, the assets may ul­ti­mately revert to the gov­ern­ment, a pro­cess known as es­cheat. Writ­ing a will is the best way to stop this from hap­pen­ing.

The Im­port­ance of Having a Will

Cre­at­ing a will is a no-brainer if you want to make sure that your assets are dis­trib­uted as you’d want them to be after your death.

A will gives you the power to spe­cify ex­actly who should in­her­it from you, and what they should in­her­it, which can be par­tic­u­larly im­port­ant in modern family struc­tures or if you have spe­cif­ic in­ten­tions that the rules of in­test­acy would not fulfil.

Here’s How to Get Started with Making a Will:

  1. List Your Assets: Start by making an in­vent­ory of what you own - prop­erty, sav­ings, in­vest­ments, and per­son­al pos­ses­sions.
  2. Decide on Be­ne­fi­ciar­ies: Think care­fully about who you want to in­her­it your assets. This can in­clude family, friends, char­it­ies, or others.
  3. Ap­point an Ex­ecut­or: Choose someone you trust to carry out the in­struc­tions in your will.
  4. Seek Legal Advice: To ensure that your will is leg­ally bind­ing, it’s best to con­sult with a so­li­citor or a legal expert, es­pe­cially if your estate is large or com­plex.
  5. Sign and Wit­ness Your Will: Once writ­ten, your will needs to be signed in the pres­ence of at least two wit­nesses to be valid.

Un­der­stand­ing the in­test­acy rules and the po­ten­tial prob­lems caused by dying without a will in the UK high­lights how im­port­ant it is to take con­trol of your estate plan­ning.

By cre­at­ing a clear and leg­ally valid will, you can avoid un­ne­ces­sary stress and con­flict for your loved ones after you’ve gone.

Personal legal assistance at your fingertips
Coming soon
Lasting power of attorney
Living will
Contact us
Lemuntie 3-5 A 00510 Helsinki 2901500-3
Aatos Legal Technology ltd Company Number 15368786 1 Chapel Street, Warwick, United Kingdom, CV34 4HL
© Aatos Legal Technology 2024