What happens if you die without a will?

Writing a will is a job that a lot of us put off. It’s a boring task, and there’s no rush, right? No-one likes to think about leaving their loved ones behind, let alone dividing prized possessions and hard-earned funds between them.

You are not alone if you are putting it off – thousands of people die each year without having put their affairs in order. It’s natural to think that there’s plenty of time to get arduous tasks completed, such as writing a will.

But what actually happens to your possessions and the rights of your loved ones to your estate if you end up leaving it too late?

What is Intestacy?

To die “intestate” is, quite simply put, to die without having made a will. Intestacy therefore, is the condition of your estate (your possessions, money, property etc), when you die without having made a will or other form of binding declaration.

What happens to your estate if you die intestate?

Under UK Law, there are a number of rules and provisions made to deal with the estates of those who die without having written a Last Will & Testament. Predictably enough, they are mainly focused on a pretty traditional family model.

Outside of that model, those of us who have more people in our lives than one spouse or civil partner and one set of biological kids might like to sit up and pay particular attention at this point.

Because you might be leaving the people you love the most, and who love and care for you, to wave your goods and chattels, your business and investments – perhaps even the home they share with you – off to your brother in Bournemouth who you haven’t spoken to since THAT Christmas in 1986.

Here are the technicalities:

There are some things that you own that do not, and cannot be passed by a will. Similarly, they cannot pass under intestacy. For the rest, the intestacy rules contained in the Administration of Estates Act 1925 (AEA 1925) apply and decide who is entitled to an individual’s property when he/she dies without disposing of it by valid will.

Firstly, your Personal Representatives must pay the funeral, testamentary and administration expenses and any debts that you have left behind. They have a power of sale in order to do so if necessary. Whatever is left is known as the ‘residuary estate’ and this then gets shared among the family under the rules of distribution which are set out In the AEA 1925.

If, as an intestate, you are survived by a spouse or civil partner and direct descendants (children, grandchildren, great grandchildren etc, adopted children and their descendants), the residuary estate is divided as follows:

  1. Your spouse or civil partner will receive any personal chattels absolutely. Personal chattels are tangible moveable property other than that property which is money, security for money, was used at the time of death solely for business purposes, or was held at the time of death solely as an investment.
  2. Your spouse or civil partner will receive a ‘statutory legacy’ of up to £250,000 of your estate which is free of tax and costs plus interest from death until payment.
  3. The rest of the residuary estate is divided in half. One half is held on trust for your spouse or civil partner absolutely. The other half is held for the direct descendants on the ‘statutory trusts’.
  4. Statutory trusts determine the membership of the class of beneficiaries. The Primary Beneficiaries are the children of the deceased who are living at the time of death. Any interest of children is contingent upon them reaching 18 years of age, or marrying or entering into a civil partnership under that age. If any of your children predecease you, then their children (your grandchildren) who are living will take their deceased parent’s share equally between them. This is again contingent upon them reaching 18 years old or entering into a marriage or civil partnership. any debts that you have left behind. They have a power of sale in order to do so if necessary.

As you can see, there is therefore no provision for any of your estate to be left to step-children, partners – even if they live with you if you have not tied the knot legally – carers, friends, charities or pets. Nor will the AEA 1925 allow an unequal division between your children.

Any grandchildren you may have will only receive a part of your estate if their parents are to die before you do.


What if you have no spouse or civil partner?

In this case, the residuary estate is divided between the relatives in the highest category in the list below:

a) Descendants under a ‘statutory trust’, but if none,
b) Parents, equally if both alive, but if none,
c) Brothers and sisters of the whole blood on the ‘statutory trusts’, but if none,
d) Brothers and sisters of the half blood on the ‘statutory trusts’, but if none,
e) Grandparents, equally if more than one, but if none,
f) Uncles and aunts of the whole blood on the ‘statutory trusts’, but if none,
g) Uncles and aunts of the half blood on the ‘statutory trusts’, but if none,
h) The Crown, Duchy of Lancaster, or Duke of Cornwall.

This diagram sums it up:
Don’t Worry – ACT!!

The circumstances we have outlined here are by no means rare. Millions of us have lives full of wonderful relationships that by no means fit the model upon which laws made in the early 20th Century were based on.

People really don’t like thinking about death, let’s be honest, and besides, everyday life has a habit of throwing apparently more pressing matters in your way. So it’s easy to put off making that appointment. That’s why, every year, occasionally in high profile cases, but more often than not in quiet oblivion, grieving lovers, friends and carers are left with nothing but their memories. Even those who do have a rightful claim under law end up with the almighty hassles involved in getting themselves established as Personal Representatives and refereeing all kinds of disputes and expenses before the estate can be finalised and distributed. And all at a time when they least need such worries.

Don’t let this be you.
Tiger makes it easy:

If this article is giving you the shivers because you know you’ve been putting it off, Tiger Law is here to help. We are a caring and cheerful crew who are also highly qualified and very experienced with these issues – we do our best to make this somewhat gloomy process as easy and stress-free as possible

Here’s what to do:
  • Start with our Will Writing Tool

    It’s such a great way to start the process in the privacy of your own home. Our Wills team is only a phone call or email away to talk you through any parts that you have questions about. We are experts not only in wills that pertain to personal possessions but also have wide experience in dealing with the more complex circumstances which affect business owners, shareholders and directors. Start here.

  • Get professional advice

    Avoid the various templates and cheap will writing services offered by unqualified people, often in local newspapers or online ads, especially if your circumstances stray in any way from “standard issue”. We offer qualified advice and the benefit of substantial experience. That means we can anticipate areas which might cause your beneficiaries problems and make sure that all the little details are just right. Our online Will Writing Tool is just a way to get you organised with all your information. It helps us provide a more affordable service but is never a substitute for our personal advice and qualified professional attention to your actual circumstances.

  • Talk to us in confidence

    If there is something on your mind in relation to your final arrangements and you need some confidential advice just pick up the phone and give us a call. We can fix an appointment without further ado to discuss any particular circumstances that are concerning you. There is no charge for an initial consultation and very often that’s all it takes to clear up some areas you don’t understand or are worried about.

  • Have that conversation

    If you are concerned that someone close to you is not dealing with this issue it can be a very difficult thing to raise if you are the person who will be adversely affected if they leave it too late. Only you can make the decision but maybe you could show them this article and suggest they have a chat with us sooner rather than later.

  • Power of Attorney

    You may like to know that we also advise on and arrange Power of Attorney. Once again, if you think this may be a future or imminent issue for you or someone in your family, or even a business partner, then please don’t hesitate to give us a call for an initial discussion. It gives great peace of mind to all concerned to know that your wishes for who should deal with your affairs if you should become unable to do so has been set down in a legally valid document.

  • Dealing with Intestacy

    What if it’s already, sadly, too late, and someone has unfortunately left you with the unhappy task of sorting out their estate without the benefit of a will? Or disputes have arisen because of unclear clauses or conflicting claims? Talk to us – if there is anything that can be done to make things easier or deal with issues arising we will find it.


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Information on this website is for the general purpose of highlighting potential issues and is not advice specific to any particular situation.

If, after reading our content, you have concerns about your protecting your business, please contact us for a chat and we will help you to review what you have in place and whether there are any gaps in your filing cabinet.

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