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Intestacy Solicitors

What to do when a relative dies with no will

We can help you when a relative dies without a Will. You must follow the law to sort out their estate. When someone dies without a Will it is called dying ‘intestate’. The law which applies is called ‘The Intestacy Rules’.

Although we encourage everyone to make a Will we know that approximately two thirds of the population die without making a Will. Sometimes dying without a Will won’t cause any problems but in some cases the situation can be complicated, and it is important to get things right. There are some important legal time limits that should be followed.

If property, investments and bank accounts are in joint names they will usually (but not always) pass to the other joint owner. It is important to take legal advice to make sure that any joint ownership is properly understood.

Other assets that are owned in the sole name of the person who has died will pass according to the Intestacy Rules. Joint assets may be relevant in relation to inheritance tax so it is important to get things right.

We can help you make the correct legal searches at the outset to be sure that there is no Will. It is always important to do this first.

When someone dies with no Will this is what the Intestacy Rules say:

  • If there are NO CHILDREN but there is A SURVIVING SPOUSE or civil partner:
  • The surviving spouse inherits everything
  • When there is A SURVIVING SPOUSE and CHILDREN:
  • The surviving spouse inherits all the personal belongings (which have a legal definition)
  • They also inherit up to £270,000 (for deaths on or after 6 February 2020) free of tax and costs
  • They also inherit half of the rest of the estate but ‘on trust’. It is important to take legal advice about this. When the surviving spouse later dies this goes equally to the children
  • The other half the estate is divided equally between the children
  • When there are CHILDREN (if a child dies their children normally take instead) and NO SURVIVING SPOUSE or civil partner:
  • Children/ grandchildren take the whole estate equally
  • NO SURVIVING SPOUSE/ civil partner and NO CHILDREN (or their children):
  • Everything goes to surviving blood relatives in a strict legal order. You start at the top of the list and work down. Once you have someone living in a category you stop because they inherit everything to the exclusion of anyone lower down the list. Where the list refers to ‘issue’ this means if someone in the category has died leaving children, their children will take in substitution in equal shares.Parents
  • Brothers and sisters (or their issue)
  • Half brothers and sisters (or their issue)
  • Grandparents
  • Uncles and Aunts (or their issue)
  • Parents’ half brothers and sisters (or their issue)

If no one in the list above is alive, then the estate will go to the CrownIn most cases relatives can be traced who will inherit the estate. We can help with the whole process.

Children can only inherit when they are aged 18. If children are under this age it is important to take legal advice so that things are done correctly.

The Intestacy Rules only benefit ‘blood relatives’. If you are only related by marriage (other than being the spouse or civil partner of the deceased) you will not inherit.

Although the law is strict, relatives sometimes have options to change the way the estate is divided up. Sometimes this may save inheritance tax and better protect assets. We can explain the options so that things are done in the best way. Sometimes a Deed of Variation is appropriate.

Sometimes it will be necessary to make an application to Court if the Intestacy Rules create a situation which is inappropriate because of the circumstances.

Getting ‘Probate’ if a Relative Dies With No Will

If a relative dies with no Will, the person who sorts things out is called an ‘Administrator’ rather than an ‘Executor’. Usually (but not always) the closest blood relative(s) applies to the Probate Registry for a certificate called a ‘Grant of Letters of Administration’, this is the equivalent of Probate when someone does make a Will.

It depends on the circumstances as to whether 1 or 2 people need to apply to the Probate Registry. 4 is the maximum number of people who can apply together.

People normally apply in the same strict order that they would inherit (as set out above). At least 2 people need to apply when the Intestacy Rules create a Trust. Take a look at our Intestacy blog or please contact us for advice and to arrange an initial free consultation if you need help to sort out an estate when someone has died without a Will.