What to do When Someone Dies Without a Will

Thu 24th Jan 2019

What to do When Someone Dies Without a Will

What happens when someone dies without leaving a will? A question we regularly get asked.

This can happen if a person dies suddenly, or sometimes people who don’t have a surviving spouse or partner or children don’t set out their wishes for their estates. Many of these individuals do not believe they need to order their affairs before their death because there is no one to inherit. These estates, however, must be dealt with and this falls to the crown.

Officially referred to as dying intestate, the laws of intestacy apply when someone dies without a valid will in place. The rules of intestacy set out the order of who inherits their property, personal belongings and money, depending on the person’s family circumstances.

If the person was married or had children, and these people survive then they are the first in line to inherit. If there are no surviving spouses or children, then a person’s siblings and their families are considered, and after that aunts and uncles or more likely, the children of aunts and uncles, are taken into account. Find out more on who is entitled to claim on an estate.

The unclaimed estates register details cases where people have died without leaving a will.

Administration of estates

Dealing with a person’s estate when someone has died intestate normally involves an administrator—in other words, you must apply to the Probate Registry for a ‘Grant of Letters of Administration’ to deal with the estate.

The grant provides proof to banks, building societies and more that you have the authority to access and distribute funds the deceased person had. If inheritance tax is due on the estate—it applies to estates that exceed a certain threshold—some or all of this must be paid before the grant is issued.

A grant might not be needed if a person’s estate has a value of less than £10,000, or if the whole estate is held jointly, as it passes automatically to the jointly named person.

Government unclaimed estate list

The Crown has no interest in estates where living relatives can be traced, and the estates on the Government Unclaimed Estate list (also known as the Bona Vacantia list) can be claimed by anyone who can prove a valid claim or relationship to the person on the list.

The Unclaimed Estates register here is updated regularly to reflect the estates on the Bona Vacantia list (i.e. the government unclaimed estate list). Why not sign up for an alert to estates that come on the list under certain surnames? You might be entitled to a claim on such an estate, and be an heir or one of the heirs.