It should be noted that the information contained in this section relates to our current understanding of the law of England & Wales which is subject to change. Laws in other parts of the UK will differ.

What happens if you don't make a will?

Everything you leave when you die, less anything you owe, is called your 'estate'. A will sets out what is to happen to your estate. It is a legal document which, although it can be changed after your death in some circumstances, will normally be followed as written.

Dying without a will (called dying intestate) can cause unnecessary hardship for your survivors:

  • Delays would be incurred in trying to find out whether or not you did in fact leave a will, and in tracing your possessions.
  • Delays would occur in the necessary formalities required before your estate can be distributed.
  • Your next of kin will usually be appointed to sort out your estate, and he or she might not be the best person to do the job.
  • The law dictates who will inherit your estate and in what proportions depending on whether you were married and/or have any children or grandchildren.

The rules do not recognise unmarried partners (although a partner may be able to make a claim on your estate):

  • The law may require legally binding trusts to be set up. These may be unnecessarily restrictive and expensive, especially where only small sums are involved.
  • There may be an inheritance tax on the estate which could have been avoided.

Another very important reason for making a will is so that you can decide who you want to look after your children if you have a young family.

If you do not make a will, your possessions will not necessarily be passed on in the way you would choose. This is a particular risk if you live with an unmarried partner.

(Inheritance Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.


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