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What happens if you die without a Will

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.

Rules of intestacy flowchart showing who will inherit it you die without a Will

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:

  1. Parents – not step-parents
  2. Siblings^ – if there are no full siblings then it will go to your half siblings
  3. Grandparents – not step-grandparents
  4. Aunts or uncles^ – if there are no full aunts or uncles then your half aunts or uncles could inherit
  5. 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.

This includes:

  • 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.

If you’re put off making a Will because you think it will be time consuming, complicated or expensive to do, think again. SunLife offers a straightforward Will writing service from just £99.

SunLife offers a range of straightforward and affordable products including over 50s life insurance, funeral plans, life insurance, equity release, pet insurance, home insurance, car insurance, ISAs and Will writing services.

Here's the information that you need to know about who we are and the other companies that we work with in order to provide our products and services.

Who are SunLife? 

Phoenix Life Limited trades as SunLife and is the provider of the Guaranteed Over 50 Plan, SunLife Insurance and the life insurance policy payment option for Funeral Plans. Phoenix Life Limited’s registered office is at 1 Wythall Green Way, Wythall, Birmingham, B47 6WG (registered in England, no. 1016269). Phoenix Life Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority and is entered on the Financial Services Register (registration no. 110418). As part of SunLife’s commitment to quality service and security, telephone calls may be recorded.

SunLife Limited distributes financial products and services and is a company limited by shares, registered office: 1 Wythall Green Way, Wythall, Birmingham, B47 6WG (registered in England, no. 05460862). SunLife Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and is entered on the Financial Services Register (registration no. 769427).

You can contact us by post at SunLife, PO Box 1395, Peterborough, PE2 2TR or by phone on 0800 008 6060.

If you choose to add Funeral Benefit Option to your Guaranteed Over 50 Plan the funeral services are arranged and provided by Dignity Funerals Limited. Dignity Funerals Limited is a company registered in England and Wales No. 00041598. VAT registered No. 486 6081 14. 4 King Edwards Court, King Edwards Square, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, B73 6AP. Telephone No. 0121 354 1557. Fax No. 0121 355 808. Part of Dignity plc. A British Company. Dignity are not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority or the Prudential Regulation Authority but are registered providers with the Funeral Planning Authority.

Who provides the Funeral Plans?

The funeral services are arranged by a funeral director selected by Golden Charter Ltd. Golden Charter Ltd are not required to be authorised or regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority or the Prudential Regulation Authority in relation to funeral plans but are registered providers with the Funeral Planning Authority.

If you choose to pay for your funeral in one go, with a single payment, you will have a contract with Golden Charter. The funeral services will be arranged by a funeral director selected by Golden Charter Ltd.

If you choose to pay for your funeral with a life insurance policy, the policy will be provided by Phoenix Life Limited, trading as SunLife. The funeral services will be arranged by a funeral director selected by Golden Charter Ltd.

Who provides My Smarter (ISA)?

My Smarter (ISA) is provided by Scottish Friendly Asset Managers Limited. Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Details can be found on the Financial Services register, registration No. 188832. Member of The Investment Association. Registered Office: Scottish Friendly House, 16 Blythswood Square, Glasgow G2 4HJ.

Who provides the Will writing services?

Hugh James is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA Number:303202).

The information contained on this website is based on Hugh James' understanding of the law of intestacy in England and Wales only as at April 2014. The law in Scotland and Northern Ireland is significantly different. This is for information purposes and is not intended to be legal advice.

Who provides Family Life Insurance?

SunLife Family Life Insurance is provided by Scottish Friendly Assurance Society Limited which is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Details can be found on the Financial Services register (registration number 110002). Registered Office: Scottish Friendly House, 16 Blythswood Square, Glasgow G2 4HJ. 

Who provides SunLife Pet Insurance

SunLife Pet Insurance is arranged and administered by BDML Connect Limited. BDML Connect Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (No. 309140). Registered in England and Wales Number 02785540. Registered Office: 45 Westerham Road, Bessels Green, Sevenoaks, Kent, TN13 2QB.

Who provides SunLife Home Insurance

SunLife Home Insurance is arranged and administered by BISL Limited and underwritten by a panel of insurers. BISL Limited are an intermediary authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered in England no. 03231094. Registered office Pegasus House, Bakewell Road, Orton Southgate, Peterborough PE2 6YS.

Who provides SunLife Car Insurance

SunLife Car Insurance is arranged and administered by BISL Limited and underwritten by a panel of insurers. BISL Limited are an intermediary authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered in England no. 03231094. Registered office Pegasus House, Bakewell Road, Orton Southgate, Peterborough PE2 6YS.