Die without a will and you leave everything to chance. The law decides who gets what, not you. Despite this, it’s thought that well over half of UK adults don’t have a valid up to date will.

Here, Louise Harris explains what happens if you die without having made a will (‘intestate’).

There are all sorts of misconceptions about what happens if you die without a will. As practitioners, we hear it all. ‘Its OK, my wife will get everything’. WRONG! ‘I don’t need a will, the kids know what I want to happen and they will sort it out’. WRONG, they won’t necessarily have any authority to do so.

What will happen if you die intestate (without a will), depends on your circumstances. Here’s an overview of what the law states.

Married with children

If you’re married with children, then a surviving husband or wife would receive:-

  • joint assets
  • the first £250,000; and
  • any personal possessions

Any balance over that is held:-

  • 50% shared between children equally; and
  • 50% on a ‘life interest trust’ for the surviving husband or wife (ie it isn’t theirs outright to do with as they please!)

Married with no children

If there are parents, whole blood siblings, nephew or nieces, then the surviving spouse gets all joint assets, plus personal possessions, and cash up to £450,000. Any balance over that goes 50% to the spouse outright, and 50% to the parents (failing them siblings or their children).

Married with no children, no parents, no whole blood siblings, no nephew or nieces

In these circumstances, the surviving spouse takes the whole estate.

A single person with children

If you die intestate leaving children, but you are un-married, then your children would take your entire estate equally between them (if there is more than one). 

A single person with no children

Here there is an order of priority. Those entitled will take everything. So for example, if there are parents, they take everything, and nobody ‘below’ them in the order of priority has any entitlement. The order is:-

  • parents
  • whole blood (and adopted) siblings or their issue
  • half-blood siblings or their issue
  • grandparents
  • whole blood uncles and aunts or their issue
  • half-blood uncles and aunts or their issue

If none of the above groups of relatives have survived then, and only then, the estate will pass to the Crown, the Duchy of Lancaster, or to the Duke of Cornwall (dependant upon where you live).

If you have any queries about dying without a will, please contact Louise on 03300 020 863, or email her at lh@Qlaw.co.uk.