What Happens if you Die Without Making a Will?

13th September 2019Manisha Chauhan0

Statistics show that over half of the UK population die without making a valid Will and 5.4 million people don’t know how to make one.

Many people are of the belief that if they die without making a Will, any assets they own including property, money and any savings, will automatically go to their spouse and children. Unfortunately, this is simply not the case.

If you die without making a Will, your estate will be dealt with according to the laws of the intestacy. This is where the term someone dying “intestate” comes from. The laws of intestacy set out a hierarchy of distribution of an estate where a person dies without making a Will.

Only married or civil partners and some other close relatives can inherit under the rules of intestacy. For unmarried couples, same-sex couples not in a civil partnership, those who have recently divorced, no longer in a civil partnership, relations by marriage i.e. stepchildren or cohabitees are not automatically entitled to inherit anything from the deceased’s estate. For those couples who are separated but still not divorced or divorce proceedings have not completed, the ex-partner could still inherit.

Intestacy Rules

Surviving spouse but no children

Where there is a surviving spouse but no children, the spouse inherits everything.

Surviving spouse and children

Where there is a surviving spouse and children, the intestacy rules will share the estate as set out below.

The spouse of the deceased will receive everything up to the value of £250,000 including personal chattels.

Anything in addition to the £250,000 is divided in two. Half will go to the spouse and any children will receive the other half when they reach the age of 18.

Children but no partner

If there are children but no married or civil partner, the children will inherit everything and all proceeds will be equally split between them. “Children” includes adopted children but not stepchildren.

No partner and no children

The estate will fall to the deceased’s parents. If the parents of the deceased have themselves died, the assets will be allocated in the following order:

  • Brothers and sisters (or nephews and nieces if the sibling has died)
  • Grandparents
  • Uncles and aunties (or cousins if the uncle or aunt has died

Failing the above, the estate goes to the Crown which is known as “bona vacantia.”

What happens to joint assets under intestacy?

If the home is jointly owned, the deceased’s share will automatically pass to the surviving partner by way of survivorship.

If the home is owned as tenants in common, the survivor isn’t automatically entitled to inherit the share of the property and therefore the deceased’s share will pass in accordance with the laws of intestacy.

Couples may own joint bank accounts or building society accounts. The survivorship rule applies in this instance also where the surviving partner will automatically inherit all the money in the account.


Quite simply, the rules of intestacy may not distribute the estate in the most tax efficient way or in a way the deceased would have done if given the choice. The effect of this would mean people who the deceased may have wanted to provide for won’t be, or worse still, people that the deceased would have wanted to exclude from inheriting any of the estate, could inherit under the laws of intestacy.

Take, for example, a couple who have legally separated but not divorced. If Mr dies without a Will, Mrs will inherit the estate when Mr may not have wanted this at all. A Will prevents a scenario like this from arising.

There is a common misconception that you only need to make a Will when you are “of age” which simply is not the case. You should make a Will where you are married, have children, have a positive net worth or in a civil partnership.

Making a Will is one of the most important things you can do because it allows you to decide how your assets will be distributed and to whom on your death. Not only does a Will enable you to do this, but also to make provisions for your children by appointing guardians, provisions for pets, gift personal items to loved ones and donating to a charity by appointing responsible and trustworthy executors who will deal with your estate in accordance with your wishes.

Contact one of our members today to make your Will.

Manisha Chauhan

Manisha joined the Society’s Technical Advice Team in July 2019 having previously worked as an Employment Solicitor in Warwickshire before relocating to Lincolnshire. Manisha provides advice on technical queries for Society Members and ongoing support on our professional drafting software, Sure Will Writer.

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