If you die without a will the law decides who inherits your estate!
If you don’t make a will, then the law decides who gets your estate, not you! And, don’t think that the law necessarily will do as you wanted. For example, the estate of a married couple will not necessarily pass to the surviving spouse outright. And, if you are not married, it is very unlikely that your partner (‘common law spouse’) will get anything! Here, we take a look at the basic principles around intestacy (the term used to describe when we die without a will), and critically we look at who gets what in those circumstances.
What is intestacy?
Intestacy is when we die without having made a will, or, we have made a will but it is deemed invalid for some reason. We are termed to have ‘died intestate’.
Who decides where my estate goes if I die without a Will?
If we die without a will, then the law sets out a hierarchy of beneficiaries who take our estate in order of priority (see below).
Does any wishes I made family aware of count for anything?
No! The only way to guarantee your estate passes to the right people is to make a will. Talking to relatives before your death counts for nothing!
What if I die married but have no children?
In those circumstances, your surviving spouse would get everything.
What if I die married and also leave children?
In those circumstances, your spouse does NOT necessarily get everything. Instead, your estate is divided:-
- First £270,000 to spouse
- Personal items to spouse
- Balance (if any) – half to spouse and half to children
What if I die without a Will but I was not married?
The order of priority when we die intestate unmarried is as follows:-
- Parents; otherwise
- Siblings (brothers & sisters); otherwise
- Half’ siblings; otherwise
- Grandparents; otherwise
- Aunts & Uncles; otherwise
- Half’ Aunts & Uncles; otherwise
- The Crown!
Decide who gets what and make a will today!
What happens to joint assets if I die without a Will?
Joint assets (including land held as joint tenants) will generally pass automatically to the joint owners on death, and irrespective of the terms of any will, or indeed irrespective of the intestacy rules. And,
the intestacy rules are calculated excluding joint assets. So for example, a surviving spouse would get all joint assets, PLUS £270k, PLUS personal items, PLUS half of any balance if there are children.
Who will be executor to my estate if I die without a Will?
The people entitled to your estate as beneficiaries will also be entitled to apply for a grant of probate to become the ‘executors’.
What is the difference between and Administrator and an Executor?
Administrator is simply the name given to an ‘executor’ of an estate where there is no will. They do the same job! But, an executor follows the terms of the will, and an Administrator follows the rules of Intestacy.
What is Bona Vacantia?
This is the legal term used to describe a situation where someone dies without a will, and also with no living relatives (see list of priority above). When their estate passes to the Crown, it is termed ‘Bona Vacantia’ – basically meaning ‘unclaimed’.
Who deals with Bona Vacantia?
The Treasury Solicitor deals with estates where there are no living relatives (Bona Vacantia). The exception to this is where the estate is in Lancaster or Cornwall. In those circumstances, solicitors acting for the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall respectively will deal the estates.
Where can I see a list of unclaimed estates?
This is available at the Government website.
How long do I have to make a claim against Bona Vacantia?
You can make a claim against an unclaimed estate for up to 30 years after death. Up to 12 years after death interest is payable, and after that period, no interest would be due.
Want help around Intestacy?
If you have any questions around the area of dying without a will, do get in touch with our team of expert wills and probate solicitors.