The death of someone who has not arranged a will could leave many of their financial and personal affairs up in the air and these will usually fall under the rules of intestacy that could distribute assets in a way that wouldn't be your first choice. In this article, we explain who needs a will as well as how your estate would be distributed depending on your particular circumstances if you don't have a will in place.
What is a Will and do I need one?
A Will is a legal document that sets out what is to happen to your estate when you die. As well as dealing with the financial aspects of your estate, a Will can also detail what is to happen to children or other dependents and what type of funeral you may want. You can name your beneficiaries as well as nominate executors who would oversee the process of dealing with your estate.
Having a Will also makes the whole process of dealing with your estate simpler and quicker, which can reduce stress on relatives at an upsetting time.
Who needs a Will?
It could be argued that everybody who owns assets should have a Will, but it should be a priority for the following groups of people:
Married or in a civil partnership
If you are married or in a civil partnership, it is important to have a Will so that your assets are passed easily to your partner or any particular wishes, such as gifts or charitable donations, are observed.
If you have children, then a Will sets out who is to look after them if you die before they reach adulthood. It can set out whether your children get equal shares or if a child is to inherit specific items. As family dynamics change, such as divorce or the death of a beneficiary, then a Will can be altered to reflect any change of wishes.
Single with assets
If you are single and have assets such as property or investments, then it would be prudent to make a Will to ensure your assets are distributed as you wish. Perhaps you have relatives to whom you would wish to pass on your assets or charities that would welcome any donations. Making a Will would mean your wishes would be fulfilled in a structured and legal manner.
For more information read our article "What is a will and should I get one?".
What happens if I die without a will?
If you die without making a will (known as dying intestate), then your estate will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy. The rules of intestacy are fairly complex and depend mainly on the size of the estate, the deceased's marital status, and the number of children.
Single with no children
If both of your parents are living, they will inherit your entire estate. Otherwise, your estate will be divided between your surviving parent and any siblings and half-siblings. If neither parent is alive at the time of your death, your estate will be divided among siblings/half-siblings in equal parts. If there are no surviving parents, siblings, or descendants of siblings (nieces and nephews), then any surviving grandparents would inherit your estate. If there are no surviving grandparents, then any surviving aunts or uncles would inherit your estate.
If you have no surviving relatives, then your estate would pass to the Crown.
Single with children
If you are single and have children, then your entire estate would pass to your children, in equal shares. If any of your children had predeceased you and they had children, then those children - your grandchildren - would inherit their parent's share.
Married or in a civil partnership with no children
If you are married or in a civil partnership but have no children then your surviving partner will inherit your estate in its entirety.
Married or in a civil partnership with children
If you are married or in a civil partnership and have children then your estate will be distributed as follows:
Your partner will receive:
- all your possessions
- the first £322,000 of your estate
- 50% of the remainder of your estate
Your children will receive:
- the other 50% of the remainder of your estate above £322,000
Who cannot inherit if I die without a Will?
If you are not a blood relative or were not in a legally recognised relationship with the deceased, then you cannot inherit an intestate estate.
- unmarried partners regardless of the length of time in a relationship
- step-children who have not been adopted by their step-parent, parents-in-law or brother and sisters-in-law
- close friends
Can you challenge the rules of intestacy?
You can only challenge an inheritance under a Will or intestacy if you are:
- the spouse or civil partner of the deceased
- the former spouse or former civil partner of the deceased (as long as the deceased has not remarried or formed another civil partnership);
- a child of the deceased
- where there is a marriage or civil partnership, a person who was treated by the deceased as a child of the family
- immediately before the death of the deceased, you were dependent - either wholly or partly - on the deceased
- if co-habiting with the deceased, then you must have been living with the deceased for at least two years
Any application to challenge the rules of intestacy must be made within 6 months of the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration.
How can I set up a Will?
Getting a Will prepared is a simple task and to help you we have produced a step-by-step guide that is well worth reading - "How to sort your Will today in 10 minutes",
We also have an article on the best online will writing services in the UK, which provides details of a number of online Will writing services together with an estimate of the cost involved.
The Government have also created a step-by-step guide - "Intestacy - who inherits if someone dies without a Will" - which goes through some questions relevant to your particular circumstances and provides a clear picture of who gets what.
What happens if I die without a Will? - FAQ
What happens to my child if I die without a Will?
If you have children then it is vital that you create a Will to ensure they are looked after by the person or persons you want to look after them. Who you want to look after them, where they live, and even what school they should attend can all be detailed in a Will.
It goes without saying that these arrangements need to be thought through carefully and discussed with the chosen person or persons. You will also need to consider making separate financial arrangements for the cost of your children's upbringing. Life insurance is often a sensible choice when it comes to providing financial security for your children upon death, check out our article "Life insurance for parents – should you have it?".
If you fail to make arrangements for your children's upbringing in the event of your death, then ultimately your children could end up in state care if nobody comes forward to look after them. Although it is very rare, you could also have a situation where both parents die together - say, in an accident - so it is important that arrangements are made for your children's upbringing.
What happens to my house if I die without a Will?
If you own your property jointly with another person then the property automatically passes to the surviving joint owner on your death. If you own your property on your own or as tenants in common with another person, then your share of the property will be governed by the rules of intestacy as detailed above.
You should be aware that if you live with a partner but are not married or in a civil partnership, they will not automatically inherit your property on your death. You will be treated as a single person as detailed in the sections above - 'Single' or 'Single with children'.
What happens to my debts if I die without a Will?
As part of the probate process, any known creditors will be informed of the death and they can then make a claim for repayment of any outstanding debts. If the debt is a joint debt - as in, for example, a joint credit card - and there are no assets in the estate of the deceased, the creditor could pursue the other party to the debt for repayment. The creditor would have to prove that the other party enjoyed a benefit from the debt: for example, a holiday.
I have a Will with my partner - Is this still valid if we get divorced?
No, once you are divorced, your existing Will is severed. Therefore, if no new Will is prepared, when you die your estate will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy.