What to Do When Somebody Dies without a Will

Author:
Stephanie Parry
Private Client Solicitor
Date:
05/08/2019

When someone dies without making a Will, they are said to have died Intestate and the Intestacy Rules will apply in England and Wales.

After death, it’s necessary to identify who has the legal authority to deal with the deceased person’s Estate (everything they owned when they passed away). In most cases, when the deceased person owned property or assets valued over £5,000 Probate will apply, and a Grant of Representation is required to legally administer the Estate.

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Applying for a Grant of Representation

If the deceased person didn’t leave a valid Will, one or more close relatives (no more than four) of the deceased can apply for a Grant of Representation. In this case, the grant is known as a Grant of Letters of Administration and instead of being known as an Executor, you’d be known as an Administrator.

Once the Grant of Representation has been issued by the Probate Registry (Court), the Administrators can administer the Estate of the deceased in accordance with the Intestacy Rules.

Who Can be an Administrator?

The order of priority of those who have a right to act as an Administrator and apply for a Grant of Representation is:

  • The surviving spouse or civil partner
  • The children or grandchildren of the deceased
  • The father and mother of the deceased
  • Brothers and sisters (full or half-blood related) or their children if they died while the deceased was still alive
  • Grandparents
  • Uncles and aunts (full or half-blood related) or their children if they died while the deceased was still alive

If there is no one in the highest-ranked category or they don’t wish to act as an Administrator, then the person in the next category becomes entitled to act.

When a Grant of Representation May Not Be Needed

If the deceased’s Estate doesn’t contain any land, property or shares, then it may be possible to deal with the Estate without obtaining a grant. A Grant of Representation may also not be required when the whole Estate is held in joint names, as it will instead pass to the surviving joint owner.

Intestacy Rules

The order of entitlement under the Intestacy Rules depends on the value of the deceased’s Estate and which members of the deceased’s family survive them.

The right of a family member to have an entitlement on Intestacy depends on their relationship with the deceased and whether any closer relatives have survived. The spouse or civil partner has priority over all other family members but may have to share the residuary Estate in certain circumstances.  

Where the deceased dies Intestate and is survived by their spouse or civil partner and any children, the residuary Estate is distributed as follows:

  • The spouse or civil partner receives all chattels (furniture, personal possessions etc.)
  • The spouse or civil partner receives a statutory legacy of £250,00 free of inheritance tax
  • The rest of the residuary Estate is split equally into two halves. The spouse or civil partner takes one half absolutely and the children take the other half.

If the residuary Estate is worth less than £250,000, the spouse or civil partner receives everything. If you weren’t married or registered as civil partners, you won’t automatically get a share of your partner’s Estate if they didn’t make a Will.

If the deceased isn’t survived by a spouse, the Estate would be distributed to surviving children in equal shares, but, if there are no children, it will pass to the deceased’s parents in equal shares if both are alive. If there is no person in the first category, it will move to the person in the next category and they will be entitled to all or an equal share of the residuary Estate.

This would follow a similar list to that mentioned above concerning who can be an Administrator, except if there were no surviving relatives who can inherit, under the Rules of Intestacy the Estate would pass to the Crown (the government).

Consequences of Intestacy

A potential issue that could arise as an effect of distributing the Estate in accordance with Intestacy Rules is that surviving dependants may feel that they’ve not been adequately provided for. However, they may be able to make a claim under the Inheritance Act (Provisions for Family and Dependants Act 1975), if they can satisfy the conditions of the Act and prove their dependency on the deceased.

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