Dying without making a will


Dying without making a will{{}}If you die without making a will (known as 'intestate'), the law sets out who is entitled to what you leave behind (your ‘estate’) and who can handle your affairs. Spouses in marriages and partners in civil partnerships are treated the same under intestacy rules (For convenience we have only used the terms ‘married’ and ‘spouse’ below.)

Jointly-owned property, such as a jointly-owned home or bank account, passes to the surviving joint owner in any event, unless the owners specifically agreed that their shares could be passed to someone else on their deaths (in the jargon, that they held the home or account as ‘tenants in common’).

Unless you make a will, if you and your partner are not married or legally united in a civil partnership, your partner will not automatically be entitled to any of your assets when you die – no matter how long your relationship has been.

If you are not married when you die

  • Any of your children that survive you share your estate equally between them. If any of your children have died before you, but left children of their own, those children divide their parent’s share equally between them. Children includes any adopted children or illegitimate children who can prove their parentage, but not stepchildren (unless you adopted them).
  • If there are no children or grandchildren, any parents that survive you share your estate equally.
  • If your parents have pre-deceased you, any ‘full’ brothers and sisters (with both of their parents the same as yours) share your estate equally. If any of your brothers and sisters have died before you, but left children of their own, those children divide their parent’s share equally between them.
  • If you have no brothers and sisters, any half-brothers and half-sisters share your estate equally. If any of your half-brothers and half-sisters have died before you, but left children of their own, those children divide their parent’s share equally between them.
  • If there are no half-brothers or half-sisters (or surviving children thereof), any grandparents share your estate equally.
  • If there are no grandparents, any ‘full blood’ aunts or uncles (with both of their parents the same as one pair of your grandparents) share your estate equally. If any of your aunts and uncles have died before you, but left children of their own, those children divide their parent’s share equally between them.
  • If there are no ‘full blood’ aunts or uncles, any ‘half blood’ aunts or uncles (who share only one grandparent with you) share your estate equally. If any of these aunts and uncles have died before you, but left children of their own, those children divide their parent’s share equally between them.
  • If there are none of the above, your estate goes to the Crown.

If you are married when you die and your estate is worth less than £250,000

  • Your spouse inherits everything.

If you are married when you die and your estate is worth £250,000 or more

If you leave no children (or their descendants), your spouse inherits your whole estate.

If you leave children (they do not have to be of the marriage), your spouse inherits:

  • Your personal effects (car, furniture, jewellery, etc).
  • The first £250,000 plus half of the rest of the estate. (The rules changed on 1 October 2014 to abolish the 'life interest' in half the money above £250,000.)
  • Your children are entitled to the other half of the rest of your estate, equally. If any of your children pre-decease you, then their share is divided equally between their children.

Note: the rules changed on 1 October 2014 to abolish the inheritance of a proportion of your estate by living blood relatives - parents, siblings etc.

Spouses, civil partners, cohabiting partners, children and anyone who was financially dependent on you may be able to make a claim against the estate challenging the share they are entitled to under these rules. See our guidance on dependants' claims against an estate.

To avoid these consequences, it is advisable to make a will.

Note: This guidance applies to England and Wales only. Different rules and procedures apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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