Dying Without a Will: Understanding Intestacy Rules

The death of a family member is painful enough without the added stress finding out that they did not leave a Will behind. Unfortunately this does happen. Dealing with the estate can be a lot more of a complicated process and the rules around Intestacy can be confusing.

In this article we’ll give you a comprehensive overview of what Intestacy means and what you need to do to sort out your loved one’s estate.

1) Summary in 30 Seconds

  • Intestacy is the legal definition of what a person’s estate is called if they die without a valid Will.
  • If there is no Will, the deceased’s next-of-kin will inherit everything.
  • There are still ways for family members and other dependents to inherit from the estate, such as by making a claim or creating a Deed of Variation.
30 seconds summary

2) What Does Intestacy Mean?

When a person dies without a Will, they have died Intestate. As they do not have a valid Will that outlines whom they would like to leave their estate to, the court must intervene.

Intestacy rules state that the deceased’s next-of-kin will inherit in descending order of succession. In many cases, this will be the surviving spouse and any children:

  • Where the net estate is under £250,000, the spouse will inherit everything.
  • In an estate totalling over £250,000, the spouse will inherit £250,000, any personal possessions and half the remaining estate. The other half is to be shared equally between any children.
  • If there is no surviving spouse or any children, it would go to (1) parents, (2) brothers and sisters of whole blood, (3) surviving grandparents, (4) uncles and aunts of whole blood and (5) uncles and aunts of half blood.
  • Where none of these relatives survive the deceased or can be found, the estate will pass to the Crown.
  • There are lots of people who don’t inherit if someone dies Intestate: such unmarried partners, friends, charities or carers.
intestacy infographic

3) Why Do People Die Intestate?

grandparent walking outside

Making a Will is now more accessible and affordable than ever. You can even make a very basic Will yourself – as long as it fulfills all the legal requirements of a valid Will, it will be considered valid. Whereas dying without a Will makes dealing with a person’s estate complicated, time-consuming and costly.

So why does it happen so often?

There’s lots of reasons why this can happen.

  • People don’t think they need a Will yet, that it’s something to get around to when they’re older.
  • They don’t think they have any assets of value to bother writing a Will.
  • They think it will be expensive to have a Will made.
  • They have a complicated family life or fraught relationships — perhaps they have even rewritten, amended or destroyed their Will several times.
  • Family members are unable to find the Will, even though they believe it exists.

Did You Know?

A recent survey by unbiased.co.uk found that 1 in 2 adults in the U.K. don’t have a will — that means 31 million British people are currently at risk of dying Intestate.

If you are the deceased’s next-of-kin, it is likely that a lot of the tasks related to sorting out the deceased’s estate will fall to you.

Unless you have applied to the court to do it, the court will appoint an Administrator to handle the winding up of the deceased’s affairs and distribute their estate. This role would fall to the person or persons who stand to inherit the estate. If this person is you, you will need to apply to the court for a Grant of Letters of Administration. This confirms your appointment and enables you to start handling their affairs and disposing of their estate. They will require certain documents from you. You can’t act or do anything until you have this. Any court fees are paid out of the deceased’s estate.

Some of the tasks you will need to do:

  • Find and make copies of important documents
  • Have the deceased’s estate valued
  • Calculate and pay any Inheritance Tax due
  • Apply for the Grant of Probate
  • Pay off any debts or any other taxes due
  • Distribute the estate to the beneficiaries
grandparent holding hands

Did You Know?

There are lots of people who don’t inherit if someone dies Intestate: such unmarried partners, friends, charities or carers.

Solicitor or Do It Yourself?

As we have seen, dealing with an Intestate estate can be a huge task, especially if most of the duties have fallen to you or if you don’t have any family support. There are many benefits to instructing a solicitor to handle matters for you.

The deceased may have a complicated estate or complex family relationships. When a person dies without a Will, there is likely no clear record of what they own or the sum total of their estate. If you weren’t sharing a household with them, it is likely you aren’t going to be aware of all assets, property or possessions they own. It could take a bit of investigative work to track down things like bank or savings accounts, safety deposit boxes, storage units, and so on.

It could also get very difficult if disputes arise between family members over the estate. There is bound to be disappointment when certain ones are left with nothing due to Intestacy rules. Furthermore, they may decide to make a claim against the estate. As the person handling Probate and dealing with the court, you will probably become the conduit of information between family members, or find yourself having to mediate disputes.

By instructing a solicitor, you can avoid getting mired in complicated legal paperwork and the time-consuming court process. A solicitor can also give you clear advice and information so you can know exactly what is happening at each stage. This will leave you able to concentrate on your other responsibilities and to care properly for any family members who are struggling to make sense of what Intestacy means for them.

5) Making a Claim on the Estate

If you have a family member who has died without leaving a Will, and therefore you do not stand to inherit anything, you may be able to make a claim. The rigid structure of the Rules of Intestacy may not provide for you or other dependents. The courts are able to make allowances or provisions for Intestate estates where a family member feels they have not been inadequately provided for. They will review the relevant background information and make a decision as to whether you’re entitled to anything, and if so, how much that should be.

If it is possible to avoid costly and contentious claims, you can also make a Deed of Family Arrangement or Variation. This is a provision whereby those who stand to inherit from the estate can forgo their share to someone else. This is often done for tax reasons, but can also be made if a person has not inherited anything in the estate, such as in the case of when a family member dies without a Will.

  • As this is a legal document, there are a number of stipulations required that you need to ensure are covered. This is especially important as you may need to provide a copy to the court or the tax authorities. Avoid mistakes by instructing a solicitor to draft this for you.

Winding up a loved one’s affairs and navigating the court system can be very stressful. Talk with a solicitor who specialises in this area. They can advise you.

Need Help?

Common Myths

There is no such thing as a “Common-Law” husband or wife. If you are not legally married or in a civil partnership, you will not automatically inherit from the deceased’s estate.

paperwork signing

6) FAQ

My family member said they had a Will but now we can't find it. What should we do?

It is really important that all possible measures are taken to find the deceased Will – however it can often be very difficult. Read our guide here on ways to source a lost or missing Will.

My father changed his Will in hospital just before he died. Is this Will still valid?

It can be a cause for concern if a family member suddenly decided to change or re-do their Will just before their death – especially if the changes made are drastically different. If you’re worried that this Will was not made in a valid way, read through our short guide to contesting a Will here.