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What Happens When Someone Dies Without a Will?

According to statistics, less than half of UK adults have a will. And while this number is increasing, that still leaves millions who are at risk of dying without a will. Where no will is left, the process of dealing with the person’s estate is less straightforward. In cases such as this, it is wise to hire a probate solicitor who can help. For experienced and reliable probate solicitors in Kent, contact Ratcliffes on 01795 477 505


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After losing someone, there are certain tasks that have to be performed. The death must be registered, relevant organisations notified and the person’s estate properly dealt with. When a person dies leaving a will, they will usually have appointed someone to administer their estate. The process of determining who handles the estate is known as probate. Probate is a legal requirement in most instances*.


Probate where there is no will

probate where there is no will

Without a will, their loved ones will have to apply to the court to manage the estate via a ‘grant of letters of administration’. Many people choose to hire a probate solicitor to apply on their behalf. Only certain people can apply. This is set out under the rules of intestacy and follows a strict order of eligibility. At the top, the surviving spouse can apply, followed by their children, parents, siblings, grandparents and uncles or aunts. Partners who were not married to or in a civil partnership with the deceased cannot apply. 


A will sets out exactly how the person wishes their estate to be divided. Without one, the estate will be divided according to strict rules. This will depend on the total value of the estate, as well as whether or not they were married or in a civil partnership. It is important therefore once the person has died to work out to full value of the estate, including debts and insurances. 


If you are married (or in a civil partnership):


  • Where the estate is worth under £250,000, the surviving spouse will automatically inherit the full estate.
  • Where the estate is worth over £250,000, the surviving spouse will automatically inherit personal effects and £250,000. The remainder of the estate will be divided in half, with half going to the spouse and the other half divided amongst any children (or their descendants). If no children were left, the spouse gets the estate in its entirety.


If you are not married/in a civil partnership:


  • Where the person left children, their estate will be divided equally amongst them (or their descendants if they have died).
  • Where the person left no children, their parents will inherit, followed by siblings, grandparents, uncles and aunts.
  • Partners of the person will not automatically inherit anything (this includes ‘common law’ marriages). 


Applying for probate involves completing a probate application form and an inheritance tax form. Both forms must be submitted to the local probate office, along with the death certificate and the application fee. The applicant will then have to swear an oath that the information they provided is true to the best of their knowledge. 


Some or all of the inheritance tax owed on the estate will need to be paid before the grant of letters of administration can be received. 


Once the grant is received, it can be sent to the relevant organisations to obtain the person’s assets. After any debts have been paid, the administrator can finally divide the remaining assets as required by the intestacy rules. 


My spouse/civil partner died without a will


quill pen in ink pot for writing a willIf your spouse or civil partner died without leaving a will, you can apply to the court for a grant of letters of administration. Once granted, you will be responsible for administering their estate, paying inheritance tax and clearing any debts. 


If your spouse’s estate is worth under £250,000, you will automatically inherit the entire estate. If it is worth more, you will inherit their personal effects, £250,000, plus half of what remains. You will need to divide the rest evenly amongst any surviving children (or their children). 


If your spouse had no children, you will inherit the full amount. 


My parent died without a will


If your parent died without leaving a will, you can apply to the court for a grant of letters of administration, provided they have no surviving spouse or civil partner. After inheritance tax and debts have been paid, the estate will need to be distributed equally between you and your siblings (if any). 


Unfortunately, step children cannot inherit under the rules of intestacy. 


Can probate be contested without a will?


question mark on a blackboard in chalkThe rules of intestacy are rigid and do not necessarily reflect the nature of families in today’s society. The results can be a division of assets that is not in line with what the person would have wanted. Unmarried partners and step children won’t be provided for in the case of intestacy. Estranged spouses may inherit, while the children are not provided for. Contesting probate where there is no will is complicated. The intestacy rules can’t be challenged. 


However, if you feel a financial provision should have been made, you can claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. This can help unmarried partners, step children or other dependant persons. Any claims must be brought within six months of the grant of letters of administration. 


Beneficiaries (if all in agreement) can also apply for a deed of variation to alter how the estate is divided. This, or a deed of family arrangement can be used to include others not originally included in the division of the estate. There is a two year time limit for applying. 


It is wise to hire a probate solicitor who can advise you in these cases. 


The importance of leaving a will cannot be understated. Not only does it ensure your estate is handled according to your wishes. But it also provides for those not included in the intestacy rules, including partners, step children and friends. 


For advice on applying for probate where there is no will, contact Ratcliffes. For over 20 years, our expert probate solicitors have assisted families across Kent, taking away the burden.


Call us on 01795 477 505 today to speak to a trusted probate solicitor in Kent.  

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*An exception may exist in some cases, where the estate is worth less than £10,000 and doesn’t include property, land or shares. Seek advice if this is the case. Additionally, for assets held jointly in name between the person and their surviving spouse or civil partner, a grant may not be needed as they will transfer to the surviving person.