What happens if I die without a Will?

The rules of intestacy determine what happens to a person’s assets when they die without a Will. These rules have recently changed, but there is still a great deal of misunderstanding about them. Lucy Wilton, Solicitor in our Wills, Trusts, and Probate team discusses these common misconceptions.

So, what happens if you die without a Will?
Many people assume that their Estate will end up with those they intended anyway if they die without a Will, with others supposing that it all gets paid to the state. Both these assumptions are incorrect.  When someone dies without leaving a valid Will, their Estate must dealt with according to the Rules of Intestacy which are set out in law. The only way to ensure your assets are passed to your chosen beneficiaries in the manner you envisage is to document your wishes with a valid Will.  

Problems with reliance on the Rules of Intestacy
The fundamental issue with relying on the current Rules of Intestacy to ensure that your Estate is distributed to your nearest and dearest, is that they simply don’t allow for or recognise modern family relationships. For example, they make no provision for cohabiting, unmarried and unregistered partners, stepchildren, half siblings, or blended families which nowadays are commonplace. This is probably unsurprising as they were originally set out in the Administration of Estates Act 1925, when the world was rather a different place! 

Unintended beneficiaries
The lack of recognition in law of these important modern relationships which have not been formalised, means that relying on the Rules of Intestacy can result in distant relatives becoming the unintended beneficiaries of the Estate, rather than closer family who are not officially recognised because couples are not married, or children were not born within a marriage.  

No such thing as ‘common law’
In the eyes of the law, there is no such thing as a ‘common law’ husband or wife and therefore they have no claim on an Estate in this capacity. It is therefore unwise to assume that if you die without a Will that your partner will be able to claim on the Estate if you are unmarried.

What are the Rules of Intestacy in simple terms?
The Rules mean that the spouse is prioritised, receiving up to the specified maximum amount. Following an amendment to the law implemented from July 2023, this means that a spouse can inherit up to a maximum £322k, even if the Estate is far larger than this amount.  This specified maximum amount is called the Statutory Legacy. Half of any remaining assets above the £322k are then given to the children of the deceased.  

What are the recent changes to the Rules of Intestacy?
Until 26th July this year, the Statutory Legacy sum for a spouse to receive was £270,000.  Although the sum has been upped, this still may not create the desired outcome for a family, giving children interests in potentially valuable assets, which cannot be varied by minors. A more typical structure may be for a spouse to inherit all in the first instance, with children only benefitting after the needs of the spouse are met in full.

The importance of making a Will if you want your Estate to go to your loved ones
All this highlights the importance of making adequate Wills, not only for unmarried couples, especially where there are children involved, but also for married couples where a spouse would require all of the assets, rather than just a proportion of them.

The above is a drop in the ocean in terms of considerations you should make when preparing a Will. If you know where you would wish your Estate to be passed, it is certainly worth preparing a Will which ensures this.  However, that document also needs to be effective, and properly executed to be valid, which is why it is crucial to seek professional legal advice.

Get in touch
If you need help with dealing with an Estate where someone has died without a Will, or would like to discuss making a Will yourself, our friendly and experienced team would be pleased to hear from you.  You can email us info@penderlaw.co.uk or call 01872 241408.