Where you have left a valid will, that document determines what happens to your property once you pass away. Unfortunately, many people leave it to chance be it either not updating a previous will, relying upon a foreign will, or not preparing a will at all. You might think that where there is no will and you die that your property will automatically pass to your widow or widower. This is only partly true as there are detailed rules about who gets what property (as in what value of property) and the order in which close family members inherit.


Inheritance on intestacy

The below chart illustrates what happens to property if you die in England and Wales but do not leave a proper will. This chart should be taken from top to bottom as there is a “taxi rank” rule about who inherits. The starting point is that the former spouse receives all of the deceased’s “personal possessions” and £250,000.00. If there are children of the marriage, they share equally with the spouse any property worth over £250,000.00 (ranked 1). If there are no children, then the married spouse receives all of the property (ranked 2) and so on.

Rank Deceased’s family Who inherits what?
1 The Deceased is married or in a civil partnership and has children. The spouse will receive everything in the estate, including all personal possessions, up to the first £250,000.

Anything above that amount is divided in two, with half going to the children and half to the spouse.

2 The Deceased is married or in a civil partnership but has no children. The spouse inherits everything.
3 The Deceased is unmarried and has children Their children will receive all of the property in equal shares.
4 The Deceased is unmarried with no children but is survived by either or both of their parents The parent (s) receive all of the property in equal shares
5 The Deceased is unmarried with no children, no surviving parents but has siblings The sibling (s) receive all of the property in equal shares
6 The Deceased is unmarried with no children, no siblings nor surviving parents, but has living grandparent (s) The grandparent (s) receive all of the property in equal shares
7 The Deceased is unmarried with no children, no siblings, no surviving parents, nor living grandparent (s) The uncles and aunts receive all of the property in equal shares.
8 The Deceased is unmarried with no children, no siblings, no surviving parents, no living grandparents, nor aunts and uncles More distant relatives such as cousins then inherit.
9 The Deceased has no known relatives The property is then vested in the Crown. This means that the UK government receives all of the money.

























A couple of observations about the above:

  1. The rules make no provision for inheritance by an unmarried partner (although there are other laws which can be of assistance). The only way to ensure a long term partner inherits what you want them to inherit and perhaps more importantly avoid a family dispute is to prepare a will.
  2. Where there is a spouse and children, think about the implications here. You may have a house worth over £250,000.00 which may then give rise to issues over ownership of that property.
  3. A former spouse who is separated from you, but not divorced from you is still a spouse.
  4. Children of former marriages and/or illegitimate children are still your children. Maybe you do not want them to share equally?
  5. Children under the age of 18 do not inherit until they attain majority. Might this cause problems if they need money for their upkeep?

You may believe that you have a valid will already, but did you know that there are formalities for the preparation of a valid will in UK law and one prepared abroad might well not comply. Moreover, another little-known fact about wills. Get married after you have prepared your will and under UK law the will is automatically revoked meaning unless you have prepared a post marriage will, then you are intestate.  Similarly, divorce can result in a will becoming invalid. The best advice therefore is, if you are unsure about the validity of a will then speak to a qualified lawyer and if in doubt prepare a new will.

You might be thinking that I don’t need to bother with a will because I don’t have any valuable property. Maybe that is the case, maybe not. Just take a moment to value everything you have. Do you have a pension fund for example? The amount of money that can accrue in such funds can be vast. Life assurance? Expensive car or jewellery?

What happens to your children if you die? One of the provisions commonly included within a will is who should look after your children. If you are a foreign national and have sole parental responsibility for your children but do not leave a will, then the stark reality is that under English Law the children are considered orphaned. The implications are grave.  This means the UK Government via the social services will decide who looks after your children. The children will not be allowed to leave the country to be looked after by say grandparents, or your siblings back home and may be placed into foster care or adopted. Is this what you want for your children?

Preparing a will is comparatively cheap. A simple will prepared by a qualified lawyer typically costs from £180.00. This is a very small price to pay for peace of mind and certainty.