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What happens if someone has died without leaving a Will?

18 June 2021 | Heledd Wyn

If someone you know has died without making a Will then this means that you may have no control over where their money goes or who is responsible for administering their estate. Instead, that person’s money, property, and possessions will be shared out according to the law.

If someone dies without a Will they are said to have died “intestate” meaning that their estate will be distributed in a set manner – the law surrounding who gets what in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are different but no matter where you live you may encounter some common problems:

  • If the individual was in a long-term relationship but was unmarried then their partner is not legally entitled to any of the estate.
  • If they were married it is likely that their husband or wife will inherit most or all of the estate. However, children may not receive anything.
  • Dependant on where the individual had lived within the UK, how much their children or grandchildren are legally entitled to can differ – in a well-written Will this can be decided.
  • Inheritance Tax may be higher than it would be if a Will had been made.
  • Should an individual pass away and not have any close relatives or friends then the whole estate will be passed to the Crown or to the government.

Currently it is possible for these problems to be addressed through a deed of variation (within two years of the date of death). However, a deed of variation only works if all the beneficiaries entitled agree to the variation and are all over 18 years of age. If this is not possible, the only option would be to apply to court for a decision.

As no Will has been made then there are no executors, as these can only be chosen by someone when making their Will. Instead, an ‘appropriate individual’ will need to obtain a grant of letters of administration in order to administer and distribute the estate in accordance with the intestacy rules. This person is usually the individual who is taking the main benefit under the rules which is often the surviving spouse or civil partner.

Where the intestacy rules mean that minor beneficiaries (i.e. those under the age of 18) take part of the estate, two people are needed to administer the estate. This can lead to problems if those administrators disagree with each other on how best to deal with the estate.  Similarly, if more than one beneficiary qualifies as an appropriate person (for example where the estate is being divided between two siblings and both qualify) difficulties may arise if they cannot agree on who should act.

The sorting, organisation, and distribution of an estate can be very tricky if there is no Will. Even more so, if the intentions of the deceased are unclear or there are complex family relationships which make the distribution of the estate and assets difficult. In times like these it is often best to consider using a solicitor that specialises in probate to assist you.

Specialist Probate & Estate Administration Solicitors

If you would like advice about the estate of a family member or friend who has died without making a Will, please contact our friendly team of probate and estate administration solicitors. With many years’ experience, our experts are best placed to provide technical legal advice and help navigate you through the process. Please get in touch by calling 0117 906 9400 or email hello@gl.law

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

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