Dad Died without a Will – Does My Stepmother Get Everything?

11 February 2019

If your father remarried and died without a valid will in place, then his estate will be distributed in line with inheritance laws called the rules of intestacy. Under these rules, his new wife would be the main beneficiary of his estate, regardless of whether you think this is what he would have wanted.

How Does Probate Work when There's No Will?

When someone dies, their affairs will need to be wound up and everything they own (collectively called their estate) will need to be distributed to the people entitled to inherit it. In order to deal with a deceased person's affairs, it may be necessary to obtain a legal document in order to do things such as sell the deceased's home and close down their bank accounts.

If the deceased died with a valid will in place, then this document is called the gra/nt of probate. If they died with no Will in place, this document is called letters of administration. Both documents work in a very similar way, in that they grant the named person legal authority to sell any property and assets, and deal with banks, financial institutions and other organisations to wind up the deceased person's affairs.

This process is commonly known as probate.

How Did He Own His Assets?

The first point to consider is how your father owned his assets. Did he own his home in his sole name, for example?

If he owned a property jointly with your stepmother as joint tenants, then ownership of the property will automatically pass into her sole name, as the surviving joint owner. If he owned this jointly with your stepmother as tenants in common, then each of them will own a defined share of the property and his share will form part of his estate. If he owned the property in his sole name, then the whole property will go into his estate.

For more information on how joint property ownership works, see Joint Tenants & Tenants in Common.

Joint bank accounts work in a similar way, in that the account and its contents will pass entirely into the name of the surviving joint account holder on the other account holder's death.

Dying Intestate and the Rules of Intestacy

If your father died without a legally valid will in place, then this is called dying 'intestate' and his estate will need to be distributed in line with the rules of intestacy. These rules apply to any intestate estate, even if family members believe that this isn't what the person would have wanted.

These rules determine who should be responsible for administering the estate as well as who should benefit from it. The rules of intestacy place relatives in a strict order of priority, and your father's wife will be placed at the top of this list.

If your father's estate is worth less than £250,000 then his wife will be entitled to everything. If his estate is worth more than £250,000, then his wife will be entitled to everything up to that value. Anything above £250,000 will then be divided 50/50, with his wife receiving 50% and the other 50% being divided equally between his children.

Marriage Automatically Revokes Any Existing Will

It's also important to note that marriage automatically revokes any existing will, so even if he had made a will in the past, this would have been revoked when he entered into his new marriage. The only circumstances in which a will is not revoked upon marriage is if it has been made in 'contemplation' of that marriage, naming the intended spouse and containing specific wording to this effect.

Can I Make a Claim on My Father's Estate?

In England and Wales, certain people are entitled to make a claim on an estate under the inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975. This law can be used by certain individuals who haven't been sufficiently provided for in the will, or where no valid will was left.

The people entitled to make a claim under this law are as follows:

  • Spouse or civil partner of the deceased
  • Former spouse or civil partner of the deceased
  • Biological or adopted children of the deceased
  • Anyone who was living with the deceased for the two years leading up to their death
  • Anyone who was treated as a child of the deceased during their marriage (such as step children, former step children or foster children)
  • Anyone who was being financially maintained by the deceased up until their death

The Court will then consider the claim and make a decision on whether or not the person making the claim has received 'adequate provision' and, if not, what type of provision is appropriate.

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