What happens if you die without a Will

Have you ever considered what would happen if you die without a Will? Research suggests that most people would rather go on holiday than make a Will, but making a Will is arguably one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your family. It will legally protect your spouse, children and assets, and it can stipulate how you want your affairs handled and who you trust to do so.

Dying without a Will ('intestate') can have serious implications, especially if you have an extended family or young children to protect.

Very simply, without a Will, there's no guarantee that your wishes will be carried out after your death. Having a Will determines the 'who, what, and when' of your estate and minimises the risk of family fall-outs.

No Will, no say

The 'rules of intestacy' state that if someone dies without a Will, only their spouse or civil partner and some other close relatives can inherit their estate.

Cohabitants and relations by marriage, close friends and carers cannot inherit under intestacy rules. Instead your estate will automatically go to your spouse, children or next closest living relative.

If you have young children, you can use your Will to set out how your assets should be managed and by whom, letting you nominate people you trust to act in your children's best interests. They can ensure funds are available at important points in your children's lives, such as education, buying a home or starting a business.

What a Will allows you to do

  • Appoint Executors to carry out the terms of your Will.
  • Appoint guardians to look after any children under the age of 18.
  • Name the people or charities you want to benefit.
  • Leave gifts of specific items or fixed sums of money (legacies).
  • Create trusts to look after future generations, cover residential care costs or help vulnerable or disabled beneficiaries.
  • List your funeral wishes.

Five possible consequences of dying without a Will

  1. Family disputes

    No-one likes to think of their nearest and dearest falling out after their death. A Will lets you state exactly who gets what and helps to stop the squabbling.
  2. Your partner could lose their home

    Without a Will, if you're not married or in a civil partnership, your partner may have no right to inherit your home unless you own it jointly. Your property will go to your children, parents, or siblings and your partner will have to make a claim under the Inheritance Act.

    Even if you are married, there can still be problems. If one spouse dies without a Will, the rules of intestacy will apply and sorting out the estate can be more complicated. In the worst cases your home may have to be sold so the estate can be distributed to other family members.
  3. It could cost your loved ones dearly

    With no Will these cases can be complex, long winded and expensive.
  4. Your children could suffer

    If both parents die without designating a guardian in their Will, the courts will inevitably make this decision. They might not choose the person you'd prefer, and the process can be very stressful for children.
  5. Your beneficiaries may pay more tax than necessary on your estate

    Most of us would rather minimise the taxman's share of our estate in inheritance tax. You can structure your Will to ensure as much of your legacy as possible is passed on to the people you want to benefit from it and the inheritance tax payable is reduced as much as possible.

Don't risk dying intestate. Get your Will sorted

There's no good reason not to make a Will. Even if you think your estate isn't big enough or you don't care what happens after you die, it still makes sense. A simple Will can ensure your affairs are in order and make things easier for loved ones left behind.

Always use a specialist solicitor to draft your Will. Using a DIY Will kit may be cheap but it could be a false economy. If you make a mistake, it might only come to light after your death, when if it can be sorted out it may be expensive to do so. If your Will is disputed and ruled invalid, your estate could go to people you didn't intend to benefit.

Originally published 7 September 2018

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.