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What happens if you die without a will?

When someone dies without a valid Will, the rules of intestacy decide how that person’s estate is distributed – and often this means that only married or civil partners automatically inherit from the estate.

Dying as an intestate person, you have no will and, effectively, no say over how your estate – that is, everything you own – is divided and distributed. Instead, your estate is distributed according to the law of intestacy. This makes what is naturally an already difficult, sad and stressful time for loved ones even more challenging as there are often complications when handling an estate where there is no Will.

The Rules Of Intestacy

There are strict laws governing the division of an estate when there is no Will, including for married or civil partners with or without children, and for those co-habiting.

However, there are exceptions to the rules of intestacy, and in fact the distribution of an estate can be changed if all the individuals due to inherit under the law agree to this – this is known as making a Deed of Variation on Intestacy, and should be completed within two years of the death.

In addition, any property, money or business interest held jointly would automatically pass to the surviving joint owner; any money held in trust would pass to the named beneficiaries; and anyone nominated as the beneficiary on a life insurance or pension policy should still receive the money. It is also worth noting that some pension and life insurance pay-outs are made on a discretionary basis, irrespective of whether a nomination has been made.  This is another reason as to why it is important to make a Will as the deceased’s Will is very often reviewed when deciding who the payment should be made to.

Outside of these exceptions, the rules of intestacy usually determine that an estate be distributed according to the relationship status of the individual and whether they have children or not.

What Happens If You’re Married Or Civil Partners With No Children?

If your spouse or civil partner dies without a valid will, and you have no children, you will inherit the estate.

What Happens If You’re Married Or Civil Partners With Children?

If your spouse or civil partner dies intestate, and you have children, then you will inherit the first £250,000 of the estate. Anything else will be divided between you and the children, with the children’s share of money going into a trust if they’re under the age of 18.

What Happens If You’re Not Married Or Civil Partners?

If you’re co-habiting and neither married nor in a civil partnership, you won’t automatically inherit from your partner’s estate.

As a guide, the estate would be distributed in the following order of priority:

  • Children or grandchildren
  • Siblings or nieces and nephews
  • Half siblings or half nieces and nephews
  • Grandparents
  • Aunts and uncles or cousins
  • Half aunts and uncles or half cousins

If there are no surviving relatives, the estate would potentially pass to the Crown.

How We Can Help With Intestacy

Our professional Wills and Probate solicitors are here to help you with all aspects of intestacy and inheritance.

Handling an estate where there is no will is challenging, and being the estate administrator is particularly stressful as you can be held responsible for any financial loss that’s made due to a mistake or an oversight. As experienced specialists in handling intestacy cases, our solicitors can administer the estate on your behalf, saving you the time and effort of this demanding role but also removing your risk of liability.

Bartletts Solicitors would ensure the whole process is as efficient and effective as possible, and the estate of your loved one is handled with the utmost care and sensitivity. Responsible for the process, we would communicate with everyone involved, including organisations like HMRC and local authorities.

To speak to one of our specialist solicitors about any intestacy-related query you have or to find out more about our intestacy and inheritance services, contact us on 0800 988 3674 or 01244 311 633 or email