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What if I have no will? The problem of intestacy

4 mins read
by Nick Green
Last updated Wednesday, February 21, 2024

If you don’t yet have a will, you’re not alone.

Around half of adults in the UK haven’t made a will, and even among people over 55, the number without a will is around a third, according to research from Canada Life.

While wills can cost between £150 and £2,000, depending on your circumstances, you may be able to write a will for free during Free Wills Month in March and October (if you're aged 55 or over). 

A person who dies without a will is known as 'dying intestate', which you can learn more about in this helpful guide. 

You may assume there is no need to make a will, and that your loved ones will inherit your estate anyway.

There are indeed rules in place to decide what happens when a person dies ‘intestate’ (without a will), but these will not always deliver the result that you or your loved ones would want.

In some scenarios, intestacy rules can cause your loved ones to miss out entirely and receive nothing or force them to pay a hefty inheritance tax (IHT) bill that you could have avoided by making a will.

Here, you can find out what happens to your assets if you die intestate, and the many good reasons why everyone should make a will.

Learn more: what are the best online will writing services in the UK?

What does ‘dying intestate’ mean?

If you die without a valid will, you have died intestate.

This means that your assets (everything you owned at the time of your death) will be distributed according to intestacy law.

How does intestacy law work?

Intestacy law distributes your assets to your family in a strict order of priority.

It works like this:

If you are married with no children

Everything goes to your spouse or civil partner.

If you are married with children

Your spouse/civil partner receives everything up to the value of £322,000 and half of any remainder.

The other half of the remainder is shared equally between the children.

If you are not married and have children

Everything is shared equally among your children.

If you are not married and have no children

Everything will be shared equally among one of the following groups of people (if they exist) in this order of priority:

  1. Parents

  2. Siblings (or their children, if they are deceased)

  3. Half-siblings who share one parent with the deceased

  4. Grandparents

  5.  Aunts and uncles

  6. Half aunts and uncles with one parent who is the grandparent of the deceased

What if I am living with someone but not married or in a civil partnership?

This is the biggest hazard of intestacy law.

Under the rules, your partner would receive nothing at all, no matter how long you have lived together.

The same goes for any children your partner may have (who are not your biological children or adopted by you).

Even if they were financially dependent on you, they would receive nothing.

What are the other risks of dying intestate?

Even if you’ve looked at the intestacy rules and find they would deliver the desired result, bear in mind that your loved ones will inherit much more quickly if you leave a valid will.

This can also help them to cover any funeral costs or IHT that may be payable.

If you have no dependents or close family, you may not see the point of a will. But this simply means your assets will go to more distant relations.

And if no relations can be found closer than aunts or uncles, the Crown will inherit all your assets.

So even if you have no close relatives, a will lets you choose to leave the money to close friends, charities or other good causes you want to support.

Dying intestate can also result in an unexpected and avoidable bill for IHT.

If you have substantial assets and are married with children, remember that the rules award the first £322,000 to your spouse and half the remainder to your children.

Unlike your spouse, who is exempt, your children will have to pay IHT if the total estate is above your nil-rate band.

Can intestacy rules be challenged?

You can’t contest an intestacy ruling in the same way that you can contest a will.

However, if your loved one has died and you believe they would have wanted to leave you an inheritance, you can make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act.

You could do this, for example, if you were their unmarried partner, their unadopted stepchild, or otherwise dependent on them financially.

You must make your application within six months of the date probate is granted.  

Your only other alternative may be to persuade those who do inherit a share of your loved one’s assets to agree to include you in the inheritance.

For example, if your partner’s children inherit but you do not (which may make them the legal owners of your home), you can apply for a deed of variation or a deed of family arrangement to remedy the situation.

You must make your application within two years of the person’s death.

Bear in mind this can be stressful and will certainly be more costly than simply making a will in the first place.

If your loved one has died intestate and you are worried you will not inherit, a solicitor may be able to help.

If you yourself are currently without a will, don’t put your loved ones in that position – make an appointment with a solicitor today.

If you found this article useful, you might also find our articles on partial intestacy and estate planning and wills for blended families informative, too.

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Nick Green
Nick Green is a financial journalist writing for, the site that has helped over 10 million people find financial, business and legal advice. Nick has been writing professionally on money and business topics for over 15 years, and has previously written for leading accountancy firms PKF and BDO.