According to a survey by Macmillan Cancer Support, 42% of people over 55 living in the UK don’t have a will. Over a million more people may have made their wills invalid by getting married, as this automatically revokes any previously made will. This means there’s a good chance that, if a loved one dies, you may be left to manage their estate without a will.
What is an estate?
A person’s estate is everything they own when they die. It includes:
- Any money, including cash, money held in a bank or building society, payments from a life insurance policy, and money owed to the person who has died by others.
- Stocks and shares.
- Any property, including their home.
- Personal belongings including cars and jewellery.
Any money owed by a person when they die must still be paid back. This includes credit card debt, rents and mortgages. All debts have to come out of the estate.
Who inherits the estate under intestacy?
Individuals can choose who to leave their estate to. Normally this is family and friends, who are included in a person’s will. Where a person hasn’t left a will, the person is said to have died intestate.
A person is also said to have died intestate if their will is invalid, is revoked before their death, or if the beneficiaries of their will have died too. If a will does not deal with all of the estate, this is known as partial intestacy and the rules of intestacy apply to this part of the estate.
Who inherits when a person dies without a will depends on which relatives are alive and their relationship with the deceased. The UK government have clear guidelines for who inherits, in what order, and how much starting with the husband, wife or registered civil partner and children.
Unmarried partners have no rights to the estate under intestacy, though they can make a claim against it.
Under intestacy, the spouse receives all the deceased personal belongings, and the first £250,000 tax-free. Anything over £250,000 is split equally between the spouse and any children when they turn 18. If everyone set to inherit agrees, changes can be made to this split under what is known as a Deed of Family Arrangement or Variation.
As this is a legally binding document, you should consult a solicitor before agreeing to any arrangement or variation.
If there are no surviving relatives, the estates go to the Crown under what is known as bona vacantia. Money is transferred to the Treasury who are responsible for the estate.
Grants can be made by the Crown against the estate to anyone who can evidence they have a legitimate claim.
Who is responsible for administering the estate?
Normally an Executor would be named within a person’s will to take care of their estate. Where the person dies intestate, an Administrator needs to be appointed from amongst their next of kin. There is a legal order for who counts as next of kin, starting with the husband, wife or registered civil partner.
As next of kin you will need to apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration through the Probate Registry. You can find your nearest Probate Registry through the government website.
Managing an estate where there is no will can be difficult, especially if the deceased hasn’t left clear guidance on what assets they had or if there are complicated family relationships that make sharing out these assets difficult. And, while you can do this yourself, it might be worth retaining the services of a solicitor, someone who understands the legal complexities of your situation and can help you deal with any paperwork you need to complete or agreements you need to put in place.
Even if you don’t want to pay a solicitor to manage the estate, you could ask them to review your probate application for a lesser fee; alternatively, you could request support from legal aid.
Whether you choose to manage the estate yourself or use the services of a solicitor, you will need certain documents in order to apply for probate or to become an Administrator including the death certificate, birth certificate and any marriage licenses or certificates of civil partnerships.
You’ll need at least six certified copies of each of these documents as you will need to attach them to applications and use them when working with banks, building societies and insurance companies.