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What happens to your money if you die without a will?

One of the most common questions we are asked is "What happens to your money if you die without a will?".

Last updated on December 28th, 2020 at 08:34 pm

Making sure you have a will in place is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your assets are passed on to the people you choose. When you die without a will, your assets will be handled according to the law of intestacy. You may think you do not need a will but dying without one means that there is a risk that loved ones who are not directly related to you are not recognised. Dying without a will can also cause additional stress to your immediate family and loved ones at what is already a distressing time. Getting a will is quick and easy, especially when you utilise the services of professional wills solicitors. Here we look at what happens to your money if you die without a will, along with some of the essential aspects of wills and estate planning.

What is Intestacy?

If you die and do not have a will, this is called dying intestate or intestacy. This means that the law will decide who gets what and how much. The law varies depending on several factors, including whether you are married, the number of children you have, and the size of your estate. The law sets out an order of priority, starting with immediate family members, and then moving further down the line.

The order of priority in England and Wales is:
  • The spouse, or civil partner: If there are no children, a spouse or civil partner will inherit everything.
  • Children: If the deceased was not married or in a civil partnership, then the estate will be split equally between their children. If a child has died, then their share will be passed on to their children.
  • Parents: If the deceased was not married or in a civil partnership, and there are no children, the money will be split equally between their parents.
  • Brothers and sisters: If there is no spouse, civil partner, children, or parents, the estate will be split equally between any brothers and sisters, and so on.
  • If no surviving relatives are found, your entire estate will go to the Crown.

Note, that while the law of England and Wales is the same for dying intestate, both Scotland and Northern Ireland’s laws vary.

What happens to your money when you die without a will in the UK?

Your money will be distributed according to the law of intestacy. For example, if you die without a will in England or Wales, your husband or wife might inherit your entire estate, leaving your children with nothing. This can be especially problematic if, for example, you are separated but not yet divorced, or have children from a different relationship. If you have no close living relatives, you also risk your entire estate going to the Crown. Often people with no close relatives choose to leave their assets to close friends and charities that they support, but this will not happen if you do not have a will. If you die without a will you also risk your estate paying more inheritance tax than maybe necessary. Finally, if you do not have a will, it can take much longer for your estate to be finalised, costing time, money, and additional heartache for those left behind. An expert wills solicitor will be able to help you with your wills and estate planning to ensure your assets go to the people you would like, not to who the law dictates.

What happens to your children if you die without a will in the UK?

If you have young children under 18 it is especially important that you have a will to make sure that they are looked after when you die. If there are no surviving parents, a court or a local council will decide who will look after any surviving children. This may mean that your children end up being looked after by someone who you would not have chosen. It could be a relative who lives far away, requiring your child to move schools and not being close to their friends, something which could be particularly distressing for them. If you have a will you can appoint guardians, who will look after your children if you were to die before they reached the age of 18. You can also ensure that they inherit any assets that you choose, which can be held for them in a trust. A wills solicitor will be able to help with the various aspects of wills and estate planning, including offering advice if you have children under 18.

What is probate?

When someone dies, with or without a will, their estate will need to be managed and the assets dealt with. If there is no will, the assets will be distributed according to the law. Settling someone’s estate and distributing their assets is known as probate. For example, this will involve notifying the deceased’s banks and building societies, as well as government departments, such as the local council. Assets will need to be itemised, debts paid off, and any inheritance tax paid. If you are seeking assistance with probate in Sheffield or probate in Chesterfield, then the legal experts at Graysons can help.

Who will handle the deceased’s estate if there is no will?

Not leaving a will can make it more complicated for those left behind to administer the deceased’s estate. Often a will appoints an Executor and Trustee. This is someone, or several individuals, who will ensure that the deceased’s wishes are carried out as set out in their will. Typically, the person making a will chooses friends and family as Executors and Trustees, as well as a wills solicitor who has expertise in probate. Finalising an estate can be complicated and time-consuming, so often a will owner will choose people who they know are trustworthy and well-organised. When there is no will, an application must be made to the Probate Registry for a Grant of Letters of Administration. This is usually done by a close relative and gives them the legal right to deal with the estate of someone who has died without a will. Appointing an expert probate solicitor, especially when there is a complicated will, or no will at all, can help ensure a seamless process.

Why is wills and estate planning important?

Dealing with an estate without a will can cause myriad problems. It can be especially problematic if there are complex family relationships, or if it is unclear precisely what assets the deceased had. This is why wills and estate planning is essential.

A will should clearly set out:
  • Who you wish to inherit your estate, and how you want your estate divided up
  • Appoint an Executor and Trustee
  • If you have children under 18, who should take care of them by naming guardians
  • If you have pets, who you would like to take care of them
  • Pass on any personal or sentimental items, or “chattels” if you choose
  • If you wish, leave any money to charity.

Expert will writing in Sheffield

The first step to creating a will is to contact a wills solicitor, such as the legal experts at Graysons. Our dedicated team of wills solicitors in Sheffield and Chesterfield can help guide you through the process of wills and estate planning and draft a will in accordance with your wishes and intentions.  This will ensure your that affairs are settled and that your assets go to those that you choose, saving significant time, cost, and potential heartache for your loved ones.



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