What happens if you die without a Will?
We explain intestacy laws and how dying without a Will could create a financial burden for your loved ones when you die.
Last Updated: 28 June 2022
If someone dies without a Will, what happens to their estate will be determined by intestacy rules. The result might differ significantly from what they would have chosen.
While it’s not possible to reduce the emotional blow of losing a family member or partner, having a valid Will can lessen the practical and financial impact.
A professionally drafted Will is the cornerstone of making life easier for those you leave behind. The way you write it can affect the inheritance tax (IHT) your loved ones may have to pay, and it gives you greater control as to who receives what and when.
We cover what could happen if you were to die without a Will, and how gifting to loved ones whilst you’re still alive could play a critical role in planning your estate.
This article is here to help guide you, but it isn’t financial advice. We’ll look at how a financial adviser could support you with estate planning later in the article.
The rules of intestacy: who can inherit?
Under these rules, only a spouse or civil partner and some other close relatives can inherit. We’ve provided a brief overview of this below, but you should seek professional legal advice if you’re not sure.
These rules apply to England and Wales only. There are different rules for Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Only a spouse or civil partner can inherit. Co-habiting partners who are not married can’t inherit automatically. If there are no surviving children, the spouse or civil partner will inherit the whole of the estate.
If the couple own the property as beneficial joint tenants, the partner will automatically inherit the other partners’ share of the home. However, if they are ‘tenants in common’ then their share of that property will form part of their estate and be distributed in the same way as the rest of their estate.
If there is no surviving spouse or civil partner, the children will inherit the whole estate and it will be divided equally between them. However, if there is a surviving spouse or civil partner, the children will only inherit part of the estate if it is valued at more than £270,000, with the spouse or civil partner inheriting the rest. Children receive their inheritance when they reach 18 years old, or marry or form a civil partnership under this age. Until then, trustees manage the inheritance on their behalf.
If there is no surviving spouse, civil partner or children, close relatives such as grandchildren, great grandchildren, parents, brothers and sisters will inherit.
If there are no surviving relatives:
If there are no relatives who can inherit under the rules of intestacy, the estate passes to the Crown.
Pass money to your loved ones sooner
Each tax year anyone can give away up to £3,000 free of IHT. But there are also lesser-known gift allowances, like £5,000 when a child gets married (£2,500 for each grandchild), and £250 to any number of individuals, provided you haven’t already given them a gift using a different exemption. It’s also possible to make unlimited gifts from surplus income.
Outside these exemptions, any gifts you make will normally fall outside your estate provided you live for seven years, so planning early can help reduce your estate’s IHT liability. Tax rules can change and benefits depend on individual circumstances.
Tips to reduce inheritance tax
Find out how gifting, investments and trusts could mean less inheritance tax to pay.
Inheritance tax and estate planning advice
You may want to take legal advice to help with things like Will writing or setting up trusts, but it’s worth considering taking financial advice too.
An adviser can make sure your finances line up with your legal arrangements. And they can help you navigate complex inheritance tax rules, so you can pass more of your wealth on to your loved ones.
To find out more about how advice could help, book a call from our advisory helpdesk. They don’t give personalised advice themselves, but they’ll make sure advice is right for you and you’re comfortable with the charges involved. If you’re happy to proceed, they’ll put you in touch with an adviser.