Made a Will? If not, what will happen to your estate when you die? Learn about the rules of intestacy and see why it’s important to make a Will.
Not made a Will yet? Understand the reality of dying intestate
It’s easy to think you don’t need a Will, because your possessions will naturally go to your loved ones when you die. But don’t be so sure.
If you die without having made a Will – referred to as dying ‘intestate’ – the law will determine what happens to your estate and who will receive your money, property and possessions. So, there’s a real risk that someone dear to you but not directly related to you, such as a partner or step-child, will not be recognised under the rules of intestacy and won’t be provided for when you die.
There’s no getting away from it. The only way to dictate who should inherit your estate is to clearly state your wishes in a Will. Take a look at the chart below, which shows how the rules of intestacy in England and Wales could be applied to your estate and who is most likely to inherit your estate if you die without having stated your wishes in a Will.
The rules of intestacy for Scotland and Northern Ireland are different.
You may be surprised to learn that if you’re in a relationship but are not married or in a civil partnership you are single in the eyes of the law, even if you have children together and have cohabited for years. Your partner may not be entitled to your estate, unless you leave instructions to that effect in your Will.
If you’re married or in a civil partnership
If your estate is valued at less than £250,000 your spouse/civil partner will inherit everything.
If your estate is worth more, who gets what will depend on the overall value of your estate and whether you have any other surviving close relatives (e.g. parents, children, siblings or grandchildren).
Anything over £325,000 may be subject to inheritance tax, depending on who the money goes to.
Here’s how an estate worth over £250,000 could be divided up:
If you have children
Your spouse/civil partner will receive:
- Your personal possessions
- The first £250,000 of your estate
- Half of anything that remains
Your children will receive the other half of anything that remains. ‘Children’ includes illegitimate and adopted children, but not step-children.
If you don’t have children
If you have no children, your spouse or civil partner will inherit everything.
If you’re single and have children
If you have children but are not married or in a civil partnership everything will be shared equally between your children. If your children are not living at the time of your death, their children or other descendants will inherit.
If you have a partner, neither they nor their children from a previous relationship will be entitled to inherit.
If you’re single and don’t have children
If you’re not married or in a civil partnership and don’t have children, your estate will be shared equally between your next closest blood relatives.
These are, in order of priority:
- Parents – not step-parents
- Siblings^ – if there are no full siblings then it will go to your half siblings
- Grandparents – not step-grandparents
- Aunts or uncles^ – if there are no full aunts or uncles then your half aunts or uncles could inherit
- 1st cousins – if there are no other surviving relatives from the list above, then your estate will be shared equally between your 1st cousins
If you have no blood relatives then your estate may be given to the Crown.
^ If those relatives were not living at the date of your death but they left descendants who are, then those descendants would usually inherit the share their parent would have taken had they survived you.
Who cannot inherit when there's no Will
If you’re not a blood relative or were not in a legally recognised relationship with the deceased (e.g. marriage, civil partnership, adoption) then you cannot inherit an intestate estate.
- Unmarried partners (also known as common law spouses). Regardless of the length of time you have been in a relationship with your partner, you will not automatically inherit where there is no Will
- Relations by marriage (e.g. step-children, parents-in-law, brothers or sisters-in-law)
- Close friends
However, anyone who believes they should have been provided for can apply to the Court to make a financial claim against the estate.
Make a Will and take away the uncertainty
The only way to know the right people will inherit your estate, is to make a Will. This way, you can ensure your loved ones will be provided for exactly as you intended.