When there is no Will, who is the personal representative?

25 May 2021

If someone dies without leaving a Will, then the person responsible for dealing with their property and possessions is called the administrator of the estate. Inheritance laws determine which relatives can apply to be the administrator, starting with the spouse or civil partner of the person who died.

Who is a personal representative?

In England and Wales, a personal representative is someone who's entitled to wind up the affairs of someone who has died. If the person who died left a Will, they will probably have appointed an executor to do this work. An executor may need to apply for a grant of probate, which is an official document issued by the Probate Registry. This gives the executor authority to act as the personal representative of the estate, and means they can close down bank accounts, sell property and settle debts.

So what happens when there is no Will and no executor has been appointed?

When someone dies without a Will they are said to have died 'intestate’ and no one has immediate authority to act as their personal representative. Instead, one of their relatives needs to apply to the Probate Registry for a grant of letters of administration. This document gives that person the authority to administer the deceased person’s estate. This person is known as an administrator.

The role of executor and the role of administrator are broadly the same, except that an administrator doesn't have a Will to follow. The collective term for both of these roles is the personal representative.

Who can apply to be a personal representative if there isn't a Will?

In England and Wales, inheritance rules determine who can administer the estate of someone who has died, and who will benefit from it.

These rules are called the rules of intestacy and they place relatives in an order of priority, to determine who will inherit benefit from the Estate. This same order of priority determines who is entitled to apply to be the administrator of the estate. This person can apply to the Probate Registry for a grant of letters of administration, so that they can deal with the estate.

This is the order of priority under the Rules of Intestacy:

  1. Surviving spouse or civil partner
  2. Sons or daughters
  3. Parents
  4. Brothers or sisters

More distant relatives come after this.

So, for example, if the person who died left behind a husband, wife or civil partner, then they would take priority to apply to be the administrator. If the person who died didn't have a surviving husband, wife or civil partner, then their surviving children could apply to be an administrator instead. If they have no children, it would go to the next relatives on the list.

Once the administrator has the grant of letters of administration, they need to administer the estate. This includes collecting in the assets, paying tax or other liabilities and distributing the estate to the people entitled to inherit it.

The estate will need to be distributed in accordance with the rules of intestacy. This means the deceased’s nearest blood relatives may inherit, even if the deceased didn't want them to. A surviving partner who wasn't married or in a civil partnership with the person who died isn't recognised under the rules of intestacy. This means they'll have no automatic right to inherit.

With our probate service we take full responsibility for getting the grant of probate and dealing with the legal, tax, property and estate administration work.

If someone has died and you need help with probate, contact us:

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