Before deciding whether to make a will, you might want to consider what would happen if you die without one. In some countries the law sets out what happens to a person’s estate when he or she dies, for example that the estate must go to the person’s children. A person domiciled in England or Wales has the right to make his or her own decision as to who should inherit his or her estate and does so by making a will. If there is no valid will the law steps in to dictate how the person’s estate should be divided up and certain groups of people can make a claim at court against the estate if they can prove that provision should have been made for them.
The laws which apply when someone dies without a will are set out in the Administration of Estates Act 1925 and the Inheritance and Trustees' Powers Act 2014 - they are known as the intestacy rules. Generally, under the intestacy rules the estate of someone who has died without making a will passes to that person’s relatives (in a specified order of priority). The rules set out which relatives benefit and in what shares.
If you are married or a registered civil partner
These rules apply if your spouse or civil partner survives you by 28 days. If not, the intestacy rules apply as if you were unmarried or not a registered civil partner (see below).
Do you have any children or other issue (e.g. grandchildren, from children who have died before you)?
If not, everything goes to your spouse or civil partner.
If so, your spouse or civil partner gets your personal effects, the first £250,000 of your estate and half of the residue (i.e. half of the rest of your estate); your children or issue get the other half of the residue when they reach 18 years of age.
If you are not married or a registered civil partner
These rules provide for the equal division of your estate between different classes (i.e. groups) of your relatives. The classes in order of priority are: your children or their issue; parents; brothers and sisters with whom you share two parents; brothers and sisters with whom you share one parent (i.e. half brothers and half sisters); grandparents; uncles and aunts with whom you share two grandparents, or their issue; uncles and aunts with whom you share one grandparent, or their issue.
The class which is most closely related to you takes priority over more distant relatives. So, for example, if you have one child he or she will get everything, regardless of whether you have relatives in the other classes, e.g. parents and siblings.
If you do not want the intestacy rules to apply to your estate, you need to make a will setting out what you would prefer.
[Correct as at October 2014]