What Happens if There is no Will?
Writing a will is a matter of good sense; it will help to ensure that your affairs are discharged in the way in which you would hope after your death, and that the difficulties facing your family and other dependants are minimised. With this in mind, however, a very high number of people die every year without having made a will. These cases are known as 'intestacy'.
Letters of AdministrationWhen an individual dies intestate, the process by which their affairs must be dealt with is considerably more complex. One of the major benefits of leaving a will is that it permits the writer to nominate an executor, to whom the responsibility for carrying out such tasks as the disbursement of the estate and the arrangement of other things such as guardianship of children will fall.
If there is no will, however, these responsibilities are given to the surviving next of kin by way of a Grant of Letters of Administration; the manner in which this is decided is set out in law. In the first instance this will normally be a surviving spouse or civil partner - but not an unregistered partner or unmarried co-habitee.
If there is no such spouse or partner, of they are not mentally capable of taking on the task, then the responsibilities will be delegated in the following order: children or grandchildren, if over the age of 18; the deceased's parents; other children of the deceased's parents; half brothers or sisters or their descendants; grandparents; brothers and sisters of the deceased's parents ('full blood' aunts and uncles), and finally 'half blood' aunts and uncles. If none of these levels of kinship can be fulfilled, the estate will automatically fall into the control of the Crown.
Many people are also concerned as to who will inherit their estate after their death. Of course, the best way to safeguard your intentions in this field is to make a will, but if this has not happened then the disbursement of the estate will occur in accordance with the laws of intestacy, as set out in the Administration of Estates Act 1925.
InheritanceThe first responsibility of the estate is to any remaining creditors; debts must be paid off in full as a matter of priority. Who inherits after this will, in great part, depend on whether or not there are any surviving children. If not, but the deceased was married or in a civil partnership, then the entire estate will fall to the surviving spouse or partner.
If the deceased was married or in a civil partnership but there are remaining children, the spouse or partner will inherit all personal effects (also known as 'chattels'); the first £125,000 of the estate and a life interest in half of the remainder. This means that the spouse or partner will benefit from interest and other income from any investments, but that the full capital value of these will be inherited by the children once the surviving spouse or partner dies.
If there is a surviving spouse or partner but no children, then the former will automatically receive all personal chattels, along with the first £200,000 of the estate and half of the value of the remainder. The rest will fall to the parents of the deceased or, if they are dead, to the deceased individual's brothers and sisters or their descendants. If, on the other hand, there are surviving children but no spouse or partner, the children will inherit the entire estate. This will be divided equally between them. If one child has already died but is survived by children of their own, they will be entitled to the full value of the share that would have been received by their parents.
Finally, if none of these situations apply, the estate will be inherited in the same order of preference as that of the Grant of Letters of Administration.