What happens if you die without a will?
Over 60% of the UK adult population do not have a valid will. This means that when they pass away their estate will be distributed according to set of rules known as the rules of intestacy.
Intestate is the word for a person who dies without a will, and also for the act of dying without a valid will.
Who benefits under the rules of intestacy depends on the size of the deceased person’s estate and the family members that survive them.
This flowchart demonstrates who will inherit:
The rules of intestacy may not distribute your estate the way you would have done if given the choice. This can mean that people who you would have wanted to provide for may be left out, or people that you would have preferred to exclude will end up taking a benefit.
If you die intestate leaving behind a spouse or civil partner and children, then your estate will be distributed as follows:
Estate under £270,000:
Your spouse will inherit everything.
Estate over £270,000:
The spouse will receive all personal chattels (these are ‘tangible movable assets’ such as jewellery and furniture), a legacy of £270,000, and half of what remains of the estate.
The children will receive the other half of the estate.
This may not be appropriate – you may have wanted your spouse to receive your whole estate. It may also be inappropriate to you if you and your spouse have informally separated.
If you die intestate leaving behind an unmarried partner and children, your children will inherit your entire estate. The rules make no provision for an unmarried partner or cohabitant, so if you are not married to your partner they will be left with no provision from your estate unless they apply to the courts for provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants Act) 1975.
Example: Angela has been in a relationship with her partner John for 20 years. They live together but have chosen not to marry. They have no children. Angela dies intestate, so her estate is distributed according to the rules of intestacy. As she was not married to Barry he does not inherit under her intestacy. There are no children, and she has no parents living, so her estate is distributed to her only sister.
If you die leaving no blood relations your entire estate passes as bona vacantia (vacant goods) to the Crown.
Making a will is the best way to plan for your estate and avoid any unintended and unfair consequences.
*Article updated 03/04/2020 to reflect Intestacy Law changes.