What happens if you die without a Will?
March 31, 2020 | Wills

In the UK, over 50% of the adult population have not written a Will.  For some, the time will come when they start a family or buy a new home, but predictably a large proportion of those individuals die having missed the opportunity to make a Will.   

Does not having a Will actually make a difference? 

In simple terms, yes. When someone dies without a legally binding Will, their assets are divided up in in accordance with the “rules of intestacy”.  These rules set out who will inherit and largely depend on who survived the deceased and the proximity of their relationship.  As the final position is not fixed until death, this can cause a considerable amount of uncertainty.  For this reason, at Timbrell Law we believe everyone should make a Will regardless of the size of their estate.  

Here are a few common scenarios in which the intestacy rules can have unexpected results: 

(a) If you are married with children 

 If you die without a Will leaving a spouse and children, your estate could be split between them.  This could actually increase the amount of inheritance tax you pay and mean that your spouse is left with less than they need.  It also runs the risk of young children inheriting a large lump sum at the age of 18.  

 (b) If you are part of an unmarried couple 

 If you are in a long-term relationship and you die without a Will, your partner will have no right to benefit from your estate. This is the case regardless of how long you have been together. If you want to provide for your partner, you need to make a Will.  

(c) If you are a step-parent  

Under the intestacy rules, a stepchild will not benefit from a step-parent’s estate.  While this might seem sensible, it can cause real inequality in blended families.   


Anna and Ben are married and both have children from previous relationships.  Anna has one son Adam and Ben has two daughters, Bella and Beth.   

Anna dies first without having made a Will.  Due to the size of her estate, all of her assets pass to her husband Ben.  Ben dies some years later also not having made a Will.  On Ben’s death, Bella and Beth receive 50% of the estate each, whilst Adam gets nothing.   Even if Ben did not have any daughters, his entire estate under the rules of intestacy would then pass to his family e.g. parents or siblings.  Adam would still not inherit as a step-child 

To avoid this situation, both the biological parent and the step-parent should consider preparing Wills.   

(d) If you are separated but not divorced…

 If you don’t update your Will and die during the divorce process (or separated long term), your spouse could still inherit everything under the rules of intestacy.  They could also end up being the person responsible for administering your estate causing serious complications.   

 (e) If you have no close family…

For those without immediate family, making a Will is not always a top priority.  However, the rules of intestacy will still apply to your estate passing your assets to your next of kin.  This could end up being distant relatives who you have no contact with or may not even know exist.   

Even if you have no close family, writing a Will provides you with the opportunity to make gifts to friends and charities, benefiting those who have made an impact on your life.  

Any there any other consequences of dying without a Will?

Unfortunately, dying without a Will can also cause your family  problems during the administration of your estate.

Lost assets  

Research also suggests that dying intestate typically costs your family £9,700 in lost assets; those are assets that your family can’t trace or simply don’t know exist.   

Writing a Will gives you the opportunity to review your assets and make a list for your executorsRecording the details of your assets in one place, should save them a considerable amount of time and expense investigating the position following your death. You should ideally update you list every year.  

Delay and Extra Costs 

For those left to deal with your estate, proving a Will is significantly less complicated than dealing with the rules of intestacy.  This is because the Will names the executors who are responsible for administering your estate, confirms exactly what your wishes are and sets out the express powers your executors have to achieve your wishes.  

If you die without a Will, the administration will be more complicated, and your family will need to seek advice on all of the above. This adds to the cost and the means that it will take longer for your loved ones to receive their inheritance.  

To discuss preparing a Will, please click here for our contact details or visit our Will page. We would be pleased to help. Similarly if you require help administering an estate when the deceased died without a Will, please let us know. 

If you would like to be kept up to date with legal news and receive helpful insights about Wills and more, follow us on social media.

Related Posts