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What happens when you die without a Will in England & Wales?

29 May 2020 Written by Owen White Catlin Solicitors Category: Private Client

The statutory legacy amount has increased from £250,000 to £270,000, with effect from 6 February 2020. This is the fixed sum that surviving spouses and civil partners are entitled to if their partner dies without a Will (known as dying intestate) and they have children.

Although the rise is a welcome development, it is important to be aware that dying without a Will, regardless of your family situation, can cause problems for your loved ones and estate at an already difficult time.

 

Here we explain what the statutory legacy increase means, what happens if you die intestate and the importance of making a legally valid Will to provide for all the people and causes you care about.

Statutory legacy raised to £270,000 but who benefits?

The statutory legacy exists to protect surviving spouses and civil partners when the deceased left no Will, and to balance their interests against those of any surviving children.

Under the Inheritance and Trustees’ Powers Act 2014, the Government is required to review the legacy figure at least every five years. Accordingly, it was raised to £250,000 in 2014 and £270,000 in February of this year.

The change means that under the Intestacy Rules, a spouse or civil partner is now entitled to inherit:

  • the first £270,000 of the estate;
  • half of the remaining estate (with the other half divided between their children); and
  • the deceased’s personal possessions.

If the estate is less than £270,000 or if there are no children, the deceased’s spouse or civil partner will inherit everything.

Who inherits if I am not married or in a civil partnership?

While the increased statutory legacy figure provides greater security and peace of mind for many, the situation remains that if you are not married or in a civil partnership with your partner, they will not inherit anything if you die without a Will. It should be noted the same goes for relatives through marriage, close friends, carers and anyone else who is not related by birth.

In this case, your surviving relatives will benefit from your estate in the following order of priority:

  • Children (or their children)
  • Parents
  • Siblings (or their children)
  • Half-sisters and brothers (or their children)
  • Grandparents
  • Aunts and uncles (or their children)
  • Half-aunts and uncles (or their children)

If you do not have any relatives when you die, your whole estate passes to the Crown.  

Who deals with my estate if I die without a Will?

An Executor is the person you nominate in your Will to deal with your estate. However, if you die intestate, you have no control over who takes on this important task. In such circumstances, an eligible person (usually your next of kin) must apply to become the Personal Representative of your estate.

This is not always straightforward: your next of kin could be unwilling or unable to take on this responsibility – because of illness or age, for example. Further, if your relatives cannot agree on who should act as the Personal Representative or if the person who is entitled to act cannot be traced, this can cause delays with arranging your funeral and distributing your assets.

You should be aware that an unmarried partner, who may well be in the best position to deal with your estate, has no automatic right to do so.

How is my estate administered if I die without a Will?

Your next of kin or another close relative must apply to the Probate Registry for a Grant of Letters of Administration, giving them authority to value the estate, pay off debts and distribute your assets to the beneficiaries.

Winding up an intestate estate can be a more complex, time-consuming and costly process than when there is a Will because it has to be done according to the strict, inflexible Intestacy Rules. These can be difficult to apply, especially to complex family relationships.  

Why should I make a Will?

There are many reasons why you should write a Will. Of particular relevance here:

  • You can appoint who you wish to administer your estate. This allows you to nominate a person you trust and who knows you well, such as a spouse, unmarried partner, close friend, legal professional or carer. It also gives you opportunity to discuss your intentions and any concerns with that person.
  • You can ensure those closest to you are provided for. If you are not married to or in a civil partnership with your other half, or if you have friends, relatives through marriage or charities that are close to you, you can ensure they will benefit from your estate.
  • You can save your family time, money and stress. Clear instructions can make managing your estate quicker and easier and avoids unnecessary costs, which will help your loved ones at a difficult time.

If it matters to you who inherits your money and property after you are gone, we strongly advise that you make a Will to express your wishes. We also recommend that you review the document at least every five years and whenever you experience a significant change in your personal or financial situation.

It is vital that your Will is professionally prepared by a Wills Solicitor who will make sure it is properly executed. DIY or Online Wills very often contain errors, rendering them invalid. This could mean that your wishes are not honoured after your death.

Contact our Wills and Probate Solicitors in London, Surrey and Middlesex

If you would like to discuss any of the issues covered here, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our Wills and Probate Lawyers. We provide a comprehensive service including advice when writing and updating your Will, support while dealing with a loved one’s estate (with and without a Will) and contentious probate guidance and representation.

Our friendly staff are ready to help – contact us using our online enquiry form or call us directly on one of our office numbers.

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