There are many misconceptions about what happens if someone dies intestate, ie. without a valid Will. This can cause difficulties for a family after a death and may mean that loved ones miss out on their inheritance. We take a look at some of the most common misconceptions and what actually happens when someone dies without leaving a Will.

Having a valid Will can reduce the risk of disagreements and misunderstandings arising after a death. It gives a family the reassurance of knowing what the deceased’s wishes were and how they wanted their estate to be dealt with.

A husband or wife will inherit everything so there is no need to have a Will

Sometimes, people do not make a Will because they believe it is not necessary. One of the most common misunderstandings is that your spouse will inherit everything if you die without a Will. In fact, if you also have children, this is not the case.

Your spouse or civil partner will inherit the first £270,000 of your estate plus all of your personal possessions. The remainder of the estate will be split in half. One half will go to your spouse, while the other half will be divided equally between your children.

This might not be the division that you want or it might not be the best option financially, so you are advised to consider what you want to happen and make a Will accordingly.

My family will know who is to look after my children if I should die

If you have not left a Will appointing a guardian for your children and there is no-one else with parental responsibility, then it will be for the court to decide who will raise them. This might not be the individual you would have chosen yourself.

My home will pass to my spouse or partner

Your home will not necessarily pass to your spouse or partner. This will depend on the way in which it is owned. If it was owned in your sole name, it would form part of your estate and pass in accordance with the Rules of Intestacy. These are the rules that set out who will inherit an estate when no valid Will exists. An unmarried partner is not left anything under the Rules of Intestacy.

If you and your spouse or partner own the property together, what will happen to it will depend on the way in which your joint ownership is structured. If you own it as joint tenants, then they will automatically own the whole property, should you die.

If you own it as tenants in common, then your share will pass in accordance with the Rules of Intestacy if you do not have a Will. This means that if you are not married, someone entitled to inherit your estate could try to force a sale of the property, leaving your cohabiting partner in a difficult situation.

My common law spouse will inherit everything

Even if you have lived with someone for many years, they will not automatically inherit anything if you do not have a Will. They could consider making a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. This can be an expensive process and could potentially cost your estate a substantial sum of money.

My stepchildren will inherit my estate equally between them

Stepchildren are not included in the Rules of Intestacy, meaning they would not inherit anything if you do not leave a Will. Again, they could consider bringing an Inheritance Act claim if they were treated as a child of the family by you or you maintained them.


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