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What happens if you die without making a will?

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What happens if you die without making a will?
When someone dies without a will, their estate is divided up according to standard rules, known as intestacy. The intestacy rules determine how the estate of someone who dies without a will is distributed.
As set out in the Inheritance and Trustees' Power Act, the rules determine who inherits what based on family connections. The rules don't take into account the closeness of your relationships, or who is most in need.
If a close relative or friend dies without a will, and you are one of the persons entitled, you can apply to become the administrator of their estate. This means you'll value the estate, settle any debts and distribute inheritances according to the intestacy rules
The rules will allocate your estate to your family members in a strict order, depending on which relatives you leave behind.
Usually, your spouse or civil partner will inherit the bulk of your estate (though unmarried partners won't inherit anything).

Married or in a civil partnership AND has children

The husband, wife or civil partner keeps all the assets (including property), up to £270,000, and all the personal possessions, whatever their value.
The remainder of the estate will be shared as follows:
  • the husband, wife or civil partner gets an absolute interest in half of the remainder
  • the other half is then divided equally between the surviving children
If a son or daughter (or other child where the deceased had a parental role) has already died, their children will inherit in their place.

Married or in a civil partnership but has NO children

Their spouse will receive all personal possessions and the proceeds of the estate.

Unmarried AND has children or grandchildren

Lady walking cliffs by the sea with young children
The children will receive the proceeds of the entire estate when they turn 18. If there is more than one child, each will receive an equal share.
If the child is deceased, grandchildren or great-grandchildren can inherit their parent's share.
Adopted and biological children are treated equally.

Unmarried with NO children

The entire estate will go to the following relatives, in this order:
  • Their parents;
  • If parents are deceased, to their brothers and sisters (with full siblings coming before half-siblings);
  • If they have no siblings or surviving parents, to their grandparents;
  • If grandparents are also deceased, to uncles and aunts or their children.

Unmarried with no living relatives

The entire estate will go to the Crown.
To read more on the intestacy rules in England and Wales, as well as to understand how they differ in Scotland, read the full Which? article.
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