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What happens when someone dies without a Will?

When someone dies without making a Will (or their Will is invalid), their estate is dealt with under the rules of intestacy. This means that their estate is not always given to their person of choice and will be distributed in accordance with an order set by the intestacy rules.

Who inherits?

The order is as follows:

  1. Spouse or civil partner
  2. Children or grandchildren
  3. Parents
  4. Brothers and sisters (followed by half brothers and sisters)
  5. Grandparents
  6. Aunts and uncles (followed by nieces and nephews)

If there is no one left in the deceased’s family to receive the estate, the intestacy rules state the it will eventually be given to the Crown.
This means that none of the following individuals will benefit from your estate:

  1. Cohabitants or unmarried partners
  2. Ex-spouses or civil partners
  3. Step children
  4. Step parents
  5. Friends 
  6. Carers

Will everything be left to my spouse?

Most people believe that if you die without a Will leaving your spouse and children, your spouse will inherit the whole of your estate. The rules of intestacy state that should you die in these circumstances, your estate will be split as follows:

  1. The first £250,000 of your assets (including your property) will be given to your spouse. If your value of your estate is less than £250,000, your spouse will receive everything.
  2. All of your personal possessions will be given to your spouse.
  3. The remainder of your estate (ie anything over £250,000) will be shared between your spouse and your children. If your children are under the age of 18, their share will be held in trust until they reach this age.

If you do not have any children, your spouse will receive the whole of your estate. 


This can result in the estate becoming subject to inheritance tax. If you make a Will leaving everything to your spouse, you can benefit from the spouse exemption which means there will be no inheritance tax to pay on the first spouse’s death. Your estate will be divided in accordance with your Will and not under the intestacy rules as stated above.

Deed of Variation

The beneficiaries entitled to the estate under the intestacy rules can redirect their entitlement to someone else. This can be done by preparing a Deed of Variation and the reasons for this include; reducing inheritance tax, ensuring the partner or cohabitee is properly provided for or to include the deceased’s step-child as a beneficiary.

Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975

If you die leaving someone who is financially dependant on you and they have not been adequately provided for on your death, they may be able to make a claim for provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. This can cause your family a lot of stress and there will be additional legal fees to ensure the correct person has been provided for on your death.


To avoid any unnecessary complications for your loved ones when you die, you should make a Will. This will ensure your person of choice will receive your estate and your dependants are properly provided for.

Watson Thomas Solciitors are experts in family law.  If you would like further information or would like to book a FREE Initial Consultation, please call us on 01252 622422 or visit www.watson-thomas.co.uk