Dying Intestate in the UK – What can Happen, and Why you Should get a Will Today


Recently, a BBC poll found that around 70% of people in Britain have no formal last will and testament prepared. That means that 7 people out of every 10 deaths in Britain are leaving their estate in the hands of the convoluted, frustrating and, at times, dangerous British intestate laws.

If you’re one of these people – happily strolling around without a care in the world – I advise you to read on.

Dying Before Preparing a Will

Now, let’s face it: Death is horrible. The death of anyone is upsetting, especially in the case of friends, family or anyone we love – let alone the thought of our own eventual mortality. Unfortunately, however, this is a part of life; people come and people go. The least we can do is ensure that what we are leaving behind is a neatly prepared package of instructions that will help dole out everything you’ve left behind, be it property, petty cash, or sentimental possessions.

What To Expect

The full list of consequences to expect if you fail to draft one of these instruction booklets is long, drawn-out and very much circumstance-specific. The after-effects can be huge, or they can be relatively small, and this all depends on a few choice factors: Your marital status, whether you have children or not and the total number of surviving blood relatives.

To put it in perspective, here’s an example. If you are unmarried, have no children and have left nobody behind to survive you, then your entire life’s work will drop with the speed of gravity straight into the pockets of the Crown. In fact, in 2009, the State made a reported ₤73 million from people who died intestate.

The more children, ex-spouses and surviving relatives you have, the more the outcomes can be difficult to predict.


For parents then, it might be worth considering the following scenario: If you were to die intestate, being married and with one child, the laws will consider your estate thusly:

Firstly, who is the owner of the house? Was it purchased before the wedding, after, joint-owned? If it’s joint-owned, the co-owner will inherit the remainder. If you are the sole owner, however, i.e. the house was purchased before the wedding and your spouse moved in later on, expect this sort of future: Only the first ₤250,000 will pass to the spouse, while half of the remaining sum will be given to the child. Your spouse would then inherit a ‘life interest’ in the remaining half of the latter amount, meaning she can not sell off this portion, but can benefit from interest it accrues.

That doesn’t sound all that bad in retrospect, right? Everyone seems to get a piece of the pie. Well, the above only applies when the total amount of the estate is worth over ₤250,000. If not, your spouse would not receive a penny. You’re are also afforded no guarantees regarding any ‘extra-curricular’ heirs, so to speak. Perhaps you want to leave a substantial cash gift to that neighbour who looked after you for years; who grew to become as much a part of the family as anyone else. Or perhaps you want to leave a little bit extra for a child that is supporting a family of their own on a very low income. Well, without preparing a will before hand, you can’t.

The Reality

As an extra warning, consider the tale of Richard Moore who died suddenly in 2009 before getting round to preparing a will of his own. As is customary, the decision regarding where his estate would go was left to the State – and they followed the UK intestacy laws to the letter. Here’s what happened:

Richard Moore’s estate was divided up equally between his two surviving parents. His siblings and friends got nothing. The real tragedy, however, is that Richard Moore’s father had abandoned his family when he was only a child, and Moore hadn’t received as much as a Christmas card from the man his entire life. This man, then, a man who was little more than a stranger to the deceased was handed half of Moore’s entire estate – half of his life’s work. And the tragedy doesn’t end there, unfortunately. The onus was on Moore’s mother as the other beneficiary to hunt down her ex-husband and give him what he was due. The financial, emotional and physical burden of this pursuit was all rested on the shoulders of Moore’s mother, a hunt that eventually meant the family had to sell off much of their portion of Moore’s estate, from his home to his CD collection, in order to cover the expensive legal fees.

And while the above example is especially upsetting, please don’t think it is at all rare in its outcome. Intestate deaths occur on a daily basis, a phenomenon that we can only blame ourselves for. After all, it only costs about ₤85 to have a will officially prepared, or you can pick up a DIY pack for around ₤10 in most book stores.

If you’re one of the 70% who has no will, then, I would hope this article has encouraged you to think twice about the risk you could potentially be taking.

One Response to Dying Intestate in the UK – What can Happen, and Why you Should get a Will Today

  1. A very informative blog post, as usual. Many of the same issues arise n the United States. Getting a will on either side of the pond is mandatory.

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