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What to do when someone dies without a will

When your loved one dies, we understand that it can be an overwhelming time, especially if you’re in the middle of putting their affairs in order. This guide will explain how the process works if the deceased didn’t leave a will behind.


What happens if someone dies without a will?

If your loved one hasn’t left a will behind, it means that they have not specified who their inheritance should go to. The estate of the deceased will go into probate, where the court will then decide who is entitled to the inheritance using intestacy laws.

Terms you may come across when going through probate

What does intestacy mean?

Intestacy means if someone dies without a will. Read on to find out how intestacy rules work.

What is a beneficiary?

A beneficiary is someone who receives inheritance from their loved one.

What is an executor role?

An executor is the person who has legal responsibility to deal with the estate of the deceased. If a will has been created, this will be the deceased’s next of kin or their chosen friend or family member. But if someone dies without a will and you have to go through probate, you will have to apply for the right to become executor of the estate.

What is the estate?

The estate means any properties, financial assets or belongings that the deceased has left behind.

What is the process if someone dies without a will?

How does probate work without a will?

If someone dies without a will, only certain people are legally allowed to apply for probate, or to be the administrator. The administrator will receive letters of administration that prove the administrator is legally allowed to deal with the estate. Applying to be administrator is the same as applying for probate.

You can apply to be administrator if you are:

  • Next of kin
  • Or, if you were in a civil partnership or marriage with the deceased

You can then apply to be administrator in the following order of priority – if you are:

  • The married or civil partner
  • The child
  • The grandchild
  • The parent
  • The brother or sister
  • The nephew or niece
  • Another relative

How long does probate take without a will?

The probate process without a will can take anything from a few months to years. This depends on how complicated the estate is, for example, if the deceased owned property abroad or if there are complicated family relationships to think about. Many people choose a solicitor to carry out the probate process for them. However, the legal fees for this can be expensive. If this isn’t an option for you, you can organise probate yourself.

Once you have received probate, the court will follow the rules of intestacy to decide how the inheritance is split and given out. If the individual was part of a marriage or civil partnership, and they didn’t have any children, their partner will receive the inheritance. If they did have children, the court will investigate further and then decide.

If you would like any support or guidance at any step in the process, please contact your local Funeral Director.

Alternatively, find out what to do if your loved one has passed away with a will in place.