If you don’t make a Will, a set of laws called the Rules of Intestacy will decide which of your family members will inherit your assets, and in what proportion.
If you don’t have any close living relatives, then the law in England and Wales dictates that your Estate (everything you own) will belong to the Crown.
What Happens if You Don’t Leave a Will?
When you die without a valid Will in place, you are said to have died ‘intestate’. When this happens, your Estate needs to be administered with your debts and administration expenses being paid off from your assets and then, what’s left, will pass to your relatives in a pre-defined way.
However, any wishes that you’ve expressed during your lifetime won’t be taken into account, and nor will the opinions of your loved ones. Instead, the Rules of Intestacy will determine exactly which of your relatives will inherit your Estate, and how much they receive.
The Rules of Intestacy are designed to benefit your next of kin. There is a strict ‘order of priority’ and this sets out the order in which relatives are entitled to inherit from the Estate. The order includes the following family members:
- Grandchildren and great-grandchildren
- Aunties and Uncles
- Half Aunties and Uncles
So if your spouse is still alive and you never had children, he/she will inherit everything.
But if you do have children who are alive, your spouse will receive your personal possessions, the first £250,000 of the Estate, and half of the remaining Estate. Your children will inherit the rest in equal shares.
Or if your spouse has died, your children will inherit your Estate equally. A child, for these purposes, includes natural and legally adopted children but not step or fostered children.
If You Have No Surviving Relatives
If you have no surviving relatives when you pass away your Estate will belong to the Crown. This is called ‘bona vacantia’, which means ‘ownerless goods’.
To prevent this from happening, you need to make a Will. You might think that if you have no living relatives, then who are you going to name as a beneficiary anyway? Well actually, there are a few things that you should consider.
The first thing to be aware of is that if you live with your partner and you are not married or in a civil partnership, your partner will not be provided for under the Rules of Intestacy.
So if you have no living relatives, but you’ve been with your partner for the last 30 years, the Crown will still be entitled to your Estate. Your partner will not automatically be entitled to receive a single penny, unless you’ve made a Will naming him/her as a beneficiary.
Or you could name friends, neighbours or anyone else who you’d like to benefit from your Estate when you die. In England and Wales the law provides for ‘Testamentary Freedom’, which basically means that you are free to choose your own beneficiaries – it doesn’t have to be family members.
If you like, you can name charities as beneficiaries. Some people will choose to leave some or all of their Estate to a charity, or number of charities. The Remember a Charity website can provide further information on leaving charitable legacies (gifts) in your Will.
To ensure that the right people benefit from your Estate when you die, you need to put a Will in place.