After someone dies, their Will should name an executor who will be responsible for winding up their estate. We take a look at what happens if the deceased did not make a Will and who can take on the role of estate administration.

It is usually the case that after a death, the deceased’s personal representative, either their executor or administrator, will apply to the Probate Registry for a grant. This is the document that will give them the legal authority to finalise the deceased’s affairs.

If the deceased left a Will, then the person they named in the Will as their executor can apply to the Probate Registry for a Grant of Probate.

If the deceased did not leave a Will, then their estate will pass under the Rules of Intestacy to close family members in order of priority. One of these individuals will usually take on the role of administrator and it will be their responsibility to apply to the Probate Registry for a Grant of Letters of Administration.

What are the Rules of Intestacy?

The Rules of Intestacy apply when there is no valid Will. They decide who will inherit the deceased’s estate.

Priority is given to the deceased’s spouse and civil partner, if they had one, who will inherit the first £270,000 of the deceased’s estate plus all of their personal possessions.

If the deceased also had children, they will share equally in half of the remainder of the estate. The other half will go to the spouse or civil partner. This means that the spouse or civil partner could receive substantially more than the children. If there are no children, the spouse or civil partner will inherit everything.

If the deceased had no spouse or civil partner, the children will share the whole estate equally between them.

If there is no spouse, civil partner or children, the next in line of entitlement are grandchildren, then great grandchildren.

If there are no direct descendants, then parents, siblings, nieces and nephews are next in order of priority, followed by other more distant relatives.

Those who cannot inherit under the Rules of Intestacy include unmarried partners, cohabiting partners and stepchildren.

When do you need to apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration?

If there is no Will or the Will is invalid or it does not name an executor, then an administrator will need to be appointed.

The administrator will usually be the person entitled to inherit under the Rules of Intestacy. This means that the deceased’s spouse or civil partner will generally have priority, followed by the deceased’s children.

There may be difficulties if the children cannot agree which of them will take on the role, although it is possible to have more than one administrator.

What happens if the deceased’s spouse does not want to be an administrator

There is no obligation to take on the role of administrator. The task of winding up an estate can be time-consuming and complicated. It is necessary to value the estate, calculate and pay Inheritance Tax and prepare estate accounts at the end of the administration.

If a spouse or civil partner (or other person entitled to deal with the administration) does not want to take on the job, the next person in order of priority can do it. It is very important that the person who will not be administering the estate takes no action at all that could be construed as administering the estate, otherwise they will not be able to step aside.

An alternative is to take on the role but to ask a probate solicitor to deal with the administration on their behalf. The solicitor can carry out all of the work and the administrator will just need to sign some of the documents.

Administering an estate without a Will

Once the administrator has been chosen, they will need to value the estate and calculate and pay any Inheritance Tax that may be due. They can then complete the application form to request a Grant of Letters of Administration. This should be sent to the Probate Registry together with a copy of the death certificate and payment of the application fee.

The Probate Registry will usually take two to three months to deal with the application, after which time a Grant of Letters of Administration will be sent to the administrator. This will give them legal authority to wind up the estate, to include selling the deceased’s property, paying their bills and distributing the estate to the beneficiaries entitled to inherit under the Rules of Intestacy.


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