What happens if someone dies without having made a Will?

The rules governing what happens to someone’s estate after they die are set down in law.

These rules are quite complicated and can at times result in the estate being divided up in ways that the deceased would may not have wished or expected, for example:-

  • Step children (or step grandchildren) do not inherit. Irrespective of how much a part of the family step children or grandchildren may be, they are not eligible to inherit a penny because there is no blood relationship.
  • Cohabitees do not inherit. If a couple live together but are not married (or civil partners) and one dies, the other receives nothing. This includes situations where the family home is in the sole name of the deceased cohabitee where the surviving cohabitee will find themselves without a home.
  • Separated or estranged spouses (or civil partners) may get everything. Even if a married couple (or civil partners) have been living apart and made new lives for themselves, if they are still legally married (or civil partners) then the rules say that one will inherit in the event of the death of the other. Depending on the value of the estate, this may mean that an estranged spouse inherits the entire estate leaving the deceased’s children with nothing.
  • Ultimately the Crown takes everything. If you have no surviving close relatives then the Crown (ie. the Government) receives the estate. Any charity, worthy cause or close friend will not receive anything or even be in a position to make a claim for it.

The best way to deal with these potentially unwelcome consequences is to make a Will. Many Wills are actually made as much to prevent the “wrong” people inheriting as to ensure the “right” people do.

A dependant can make a claim against the deceased’s estate for financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 if they do not inherit under the Intestacy Rules. However, this involves Court proceedings and there is never any guarantee that the case will succeed.

Cohabitees can only make a claim if they have been living together for more than two years and the cohabitee was being maintained at least partly by the deceased. If both cohabitees are deemed to be financially independent then a claim may not be successful.

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