Dying without a will has plenty of unintended consequences, many of which can be tough on the family left behind. And yet, around 65% of Brits haven’t got one. Here, we’ll be talking about what happens when someone dies without a will. If you’re wondering if you really need a will, or if someone close to you has died without one, this guide is for you.


What happens if you die without a will? 

When a person dies, they leave behind an ‘estate’ – that’s all their money, belongings, property and assets. Normally, a will decides: 

  • Who will inherit the estate, and how much
  • Whose job it is to sort out the estate
  • Who should take care of kids under 18, and pets

But if someone dies without a will, or their will is invalid, it’s up to certain laws (and sometimes, a family court) to decide these things.


So, who inherits if there is no will?

The laws of intestacy say that when there’s a death without a will, the closest relative will inherit their estate. There’s an order of priority here, which is slightly different depending on where you are in the UK. In England and Wales, it goes:

  • The spouse or civil partner. If the person who died didn’t have kids, their spouse or civil partner will get everything. If they did have children, their spouse will get the first £270,000 of the estate, all their personal possessions, and half of everything else. The rest is split between the children. 
  • The children. If the person who has died wasn’t married, the estate will be split equally between their children. If one of the children has died, their children (the grandchildren) can inherit that share.
  • Parents. Split equally.
  • Brothers and sisters. Split equally. Again, if one of the siblings has died, their children (the nieces and nephews) will inherit that share.
  • Etc, etc. If someone has no living relatives, everything goes to the Crown.

Watch out for tax! Dying without a will in the UK often means paying more than you need to HMRC in inheritance tax. This is especially true if you’re married. With a will, you can take advantage of certain inheritance tax exemptions.


What does dying without a will mean for probate?

You may well be wondering: what about probate without a will? Who sorts out the estate?

When a will is made, the owner of that will has a chance to choose ‘executors’. These are the people they would like to sort out all their legal and financial affairs when they’re gone. Because settling an estate can be very complicated, will owners tend to choose a professional, and/or a friend or family member who’s well-organised and trustworthy.

Dying without a will means this job falls to a close family member, and they’ll have to apply for a grant of letters of administration before they can access any bank accounts, transfer property and so on. This is a legal document that names the applicant as the ‘administrator’ of the estate. It gives them the right to manage the affairs of the person who has died.

An administrator can be held personally financially liable for any loss, even if a mistake was made in good conscience. So, it’s important to keep detailed records if you’re the one to take on this role. You can also hire a professional to act on your behalf.

You can find out more about how to apply for a grant of letters of administration and what to do when someone dies without a will here.

Not sure if someone has made a will or not? You can search the National Will Register to see if there’s any record of them doing so. A database of over 8 million wills designed to help families track down missing wills, it’s used by solicitors, will writers and will storage companies all over the country. You can find out more about looking for a lost will here.


What happens to your children if you die without a valid will? 

For parents of young children, a will is really important as it lets them have a say in who should take care of their kids if something were to happen to them. They do this by naming guardians.

So, what happens if someone dies without a will? If there’s no other parent to take over, a court or the local council will decide who will look after the children. And while they will have the kids’ wellbeing at heart, they may well choose someone their parents never would have wanted. Dying without a will could mean your children might have to move far from their friends and their school to live with a relative, for example.


Worried about dying without a will? Get a helping hand

If someone close to you has died without a will, we can help. Our fixed-fee estate administration service can take care of everything for you, from start to finish. Just call us on 0800 054 9896 to get your personalised quote.

And if you want to make a will, why not get it done right now, today? We offer a simple online will writing service that can help you make a will in just 15 minutes. Every will is checked by an expert, and at £90, it’s hundreds less than a traditional solicitor. Just click here to begin!

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