What happens to your estate if you don't have a will in place

Almost three years later, Prince's siblings are yet to receive their inheritance, after he died without a Will in place

Published: November 27, 2018 at 11:44 am

Anyone who dies without a will is subject to intestacy rules, which determine what happens to your estate if you die without a will in place. Although many people assume that their estate automatically will go to their loved ones even without a will, this won’t necessarily be the case. For example, under British intestacy laws, even if you’ve lived with a partner for several decades, if you aren’t married to them, they won’t be entitled to anything from you unless you have recorded your wishes in a will.


A spokesman for mutual financial service provider Wesleyan said “Currently common law partners aren’t recognised under the laws of intestacy no matter how long they’ve been together. This is the case even if they have children or joint financial obligations. “For those left in the position where a partner dies without a will, the only real option is to make an application to the court for financial provision out of the deceased’s estate on the grounds that they haven’t been adequately provided for. All of this comes as a surprise to many couples.”

Writing a will is particularly important if you have children, as you can state who you want to be their guardians in the event of your death. If you don’t have one in place when you die, it will be up to the courts to decide who they live with. A spokesman for Key said: “A will can prevent family disputes and leave everything organised for after you’re gone. It will also cut out the lengthy and costly process of your family having to divide up your estate on your behalf, second guessing what you would have wanted.

“Your will also allows you to ensure your treasured possessions are cherished. You can name any sentimental items in your will that you have in mind for a specific beneficiary. For example, you could gift your engagement ring to your oldest grand-daughter, or a treasured family album to your son.”

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Despite the potential impact that dying without a will could have on our loved ones, latest research from financial advice trade body Unbiased.co.uk found that 58% of adults in the UK still haven’t written one. The younger people are, the less likely they are to have written a will with 76% of those in their thirties admitting to not having made a will, falling to 65% of people in their forties. Only 18% of those in their seventies said they haven’t yet made a will.

Remember that once you’ve written a will, you can’t just put in a drawer and forget about it. You’ll need to update it as and when your circumstances change. For example, if you divorce, it’s unlikely that you will want your ex to be named as a beneficiary before your marriage has legally ended.

James Antoniou, head of wills for Co-operative Legal Services said: “Many separating couples don’t realise that, whilst they’ve reached the difficult decision to divorce, they are still married in the eyes of the law until such time as this is brought to a legal end. This can have serious implications should they pass away before divorce proceedings are finalised.”


“Prior to the final divorce order or dissolution being issued, any existing will which benefits your spouse or civil partner continues to apply. If like two thirds of UK adults there is no Will in place, then whilst you are still legally married your spouse or civil partner remains the main beneficiary under intestacy rules.”


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