Skip to content
Back to Insurance
Back to Holidays
Back to Saga Money
Back to Saga Magazine
A last will and testament document

What happens if I die without a will

Learn how a person’s estate is shared out if they die without leaving a will.

If someone dies and hasn’t left a valid will, the rules of intestacy apply during the probate process. This means the deceased person’s estate is sorted according to UK Government rules.

But what are the intestacy rules? How do they settle the deceased person's estate? And what happens if no relatives can be found? Our simple guide to intestacy and inheritance provides all the information you might need.

What is intestacy?

The rules of intestacy decide what happens to the estate of someone who dies intestate’ or without leaving a will. 

Under the rules, the estate passes to family members, such as spouses or children, in a specific priority order. The process does not consider any wishes the deceased person may have shared in their lifetime. This is why it’s so important to write a will.

Who inherits under intestacy rules?

Intestacy rules follow a logical pattern. Your estate passes to your closest living relative or relatives, starting with your spouse or civil partner – even if you’re separated but not divorced. Wherever the estate goes, inheritance tax will be due. 

You can find out how to reduce inheritance tax in our simple guide.

Married partners and civil partners

All married and civil partners will inherit via intestacy rules if they were legally married or in a civil partnership at the time of death. If you leave behind children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and a spouse or civil partner, your partner inherits:

Your children take the other half. But if there are no children, your partner inherits everything.

Under intestacy rules, unmarried couples have no rights. This means that if you die, your cohabiting partner won't receive a penny from your estate. It automatically goes to your children or your next closest living relative.

If your children have died, your estate passes to your grandchildren or greatgrandchildren. If you don’t have any, the order of priority is as follows:

Jointly owned properties

What happens to jointly owned properties upon death depends on how the title deeds show ownership. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you can either be ‘joint tenants’ or ‘tenants in common’.

If one of the joint tenants dies, the other automatically becomes the sole owner of the property. For example, if a mother and a daughter are joint tenants of a property and the mother passes away, the property passes to the daughter.

Things are different if you’re tenants in common. In this scenario, when one of the property owners passes away, their share of the property passes through their will rather than directly to the other owner. If there’s no will, the rules of intestacy apply, and the estate is shared between relevant family members.

Who inherits if no relatives can be found?

If someone dies leaving no living relatives who can be traced, their estate passes to the Crown. The exception to this is:

Close friends, carers, unmarried partners and relatives by marriage cannot inherit. Long-lost relatives occasionally turn up or are traced by heir hunters or probate detectives. They can lodge inheritance claims for ownerless property with the Treasury Solicitor’s Department (or the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in Scotland). If they're successful, the estate and any interest earned on it will be legally passed to the beneficiary.

What if my family want to change how my estate is shared out?

It’s possible to alter how an estate is shared out after someone dies without leaving a will. You need to make a Deed of Family Arrangement, which is also known as a Deed of Variation. This allows someone who is excluded from inheriting (such as a surviving, unmarried partner) to get a share of the estate. However, for this to happen, all legal beneficiaries affected must agree to the change in writing.

To avoid getting caught out and ensure your wishes are followed, it is important to write a will. Please note that the rules are slightly different in Scotland and Northern Ireland

What if the will is invalid?

When a will is invalid, one of two scenarios unfold. If the deceased person previously created a legally valid will, their estate is divided up according to the contents of that will. If the deceased person never made a valid will, the estate is distributed according to intestacy rules. Some of the reasons a will may be considered invalid include:

You can challenge a will if you believe it’s invalid.

Ready when you are

Whether you have questions about wills and estate planning or just want to find out more, the expert team at Co-op Legal Services are on hand to help.

0800 096 7595

Mon - Thu 9:00am - 7:15pm
Fri 9:00am - 6.15pm
Sat - Closed
Sun - Closed
Excluding bank holidays

Start your will online

Saga is a registered trading name of Saga Personal Finance Limited, which is registered in England and Wales (company number 3023493). Registered office 3 Pancras Square, London, N1C 4AG. Saga is not authorised or regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). All legal services are provided by Co-op Legal Services. Co-op Legal Services is a trading name of Co-operative Legal Services Limited which is authorised and regulated by the SRA, under registration number 567391.