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What to do when someone dies without a Will

Posted by Charlotte Toogood | 26-Jul-2023 08:45:00

When someone dies without leaving a Will, it is known as dying intestate. Intestacy can complicate the probate and estate administration processes, as the law decides who will deal with the estate and who will inherit from it. In this blog, we aim to answer frequently asked questions about the processes involved when someone dies without a Will in the UK.


Who acts as the Executor if there is no Will?

When there is no Will, the person who applies to administer the estate is instead known as an Administrator. This individual has the same role and responsibilities as an Executor of a Will; the main difference is that they are appointed by the court. This is usually the deceased’s next of kin; if there are multiple people entitled to apply to be an Administrator, up to four can be named on the Grant.

The umbrella term for Executors and Administrators is Personal Representatives. Many Personal Representatives choose to hand over the process of dealing with the estate to a professional estate administration provider to give them peace of mind that everything is being dealt with correctly.


Do you apply for probate if there is no Will?

Whilst an Executor applies for a Grant of Probate to give them the legal authority to deal with the estate, an Administrator applies for a Grant of Letters of Administration. This is a legal document that gives the individual the same rights as a Grant of Probate, and once it has been received, the Administrator has the legal right to proceed with estate administration.


Applying for a Grant of Letters of Administration involves filling out a PA1A and submitting all supporting documents to the Probate Registry; this can include the relevant Inheritance Tax form (if required), a copy of the death certificate, and photographic ID. There is an application fee of £300 for applying. Once granted, this gives the Administrator the authority to:

  • Close bank accounts
  • Sell or transfer property
  • Submit tax forms
  • Manage assets and pay debts
  • Produce estate accounts
  • Distribute the estate to beneficiaries
  • And much more

How long does probate take without a Will?

GOV.UK currently states that applications are taking up to 16 weeks from submission to retrieving the Grant due to delays at the Probate Registry. However, it can take longer if the application is stopped for any reason, such as incorrect or incomplete forms being submitted. If you’re unfamiliar and uncertain about the application process, it’s best practice to seek professional advice.

There are several processes that must be undertaken before applying for a Grant, including getting a medical certificate of cause of death, registering the death, locating important papers, and arranging the funeral. Learn more about the initial steps that must be taken when someone dies, whether they have a Will or not.


Who is your next of kin legally in the UK?

When someone dies intestate, their next of kin will need to be established so that an Administrator can be appointed and the estate distributed legally. This is known as the rules of intestacy, and this order of priority is set out in The Administration of Estates Act 1925. The order of priority in England and Wales is:

  1. The spouse or civil partner – if the couple are separated, but not legally divorced, the surviving partner is still entitled to inherit
  2. Children (or their children if they have pre-deceased) – this includes illegitimate or adopted children but not stepchildren. If the individual had a surviving spouse/civil partner and children, the spouse would inherit possessions, property, the first £322,000 of the estate (prior to 26th July 2023, this value was set at a £270,000), and half of any remaining value. The children inherit the other half of this value (shared equally if there are multiple children)
  3. Parents
  4. Full siblings – half-siblings are only entitled if there are no full siblings. If the full siblings have pre-deceased, their children will inherit (the deceased’s nieces/nephews)
  5. Grandparents
  6. Whole-blood aunts and uncles (or their children if they have pre-deceased)
  7. Half-blood aunts and uncles

As an example, if the individual who died was unmarried at the time of their death and had one child who had pre-deceased them, but their child (the deceased’s grandchild) was still living, this is who would inherit from the estate.

In Scotland, the rules are slightly different; great uncles/aunts are entitled after half-blood uncles and aunts. There is also a system in place called Prior Rights and Legal Rights, which ensure the surviving spouse/civil partner and children are sufficiently provided for.

If the person who has died has no surviving next of kin, the estate passes to the Crown. This is known as Bona Vacantia.


Do I need a Solicitor when someone dies without a Will?

Whilst you don’t necessarily need a Solicitor to administer an intestate estate, it is advisable that you seek guidance if you are acting as an Administrator. Intestacy can complicate the estate administration process. For example, you may be faced with missing beneficiaries, claims against the estate, and more. If you are administering an intestate estate, you will need to ensure that you have made all efforts to correctly identify and locate the beneficiaries, as you are financially and legally responsible for the estate. For this reason, many choose to hand the process over to a professional. This can be a Solicitor or another probate and estate administration specialist.

Here at Kings Court Trust, we can help you with obtaining a Grant of Letters of Administration, locating any missing beneficiaries, and completing the estate administration process as efficiently as possible.

Click here to download our free 'We take care of estate administration' guide.


What happens if someone doesn't do probate?

Probate or Letters of Administration (collectively known as a Grant of Representation) are not always required; generally, you will not need a Grant if the estate’s value is less than £5,000. This is because banks and financial institutions set their own thresholds for releasing funds, and most will allow you to proceed without a Grant if the account holds less than £5,000. When assets are held solely and the balance exceeds the individual probate threshold, you will likely need a Grant. Read our blog on when probate is required and the individual thresholds of financial institutions in the UK.

If a Grant of Representation is required but the Executor or Administrator does not obtain one, they will not be able to proceed with the estate administration process. This leaves you at risk of increased interest on Inheritance Tax, claims against the estate from beneficiaries, and more. It’s recommended to start the application process as soon as possible, as this will allow you to begin administering the estate once a Grant has been issued.


Whether there is a Will or not, Kings Court Trust can help you obtain the correct Grant of Representation and proceed with estate administration. We have a range of estate solutions so that you can choose the service that best suits your requirements. Whether you need a hand obtaining the Grant of Representation, completing the complicated tax and legal work, or anything in between, you’re in safe hands with our team of specialists.

If you have any questions about the estate administration process, including intestacy and acting as an Administrator, call our Client Services Team on 0300 303 9000 or fill in the form below.

Author: Charlotte Toogood

Charlotte Toogood is an experienced, STEP-qualified Solicitor specialising in high-value, complex and technical estate administration. As Legal Services Director at Kings Court Trust, Charlotte is committed to supporting families at the difficult time of losing a loved one. Charlotte joined Kings Court Trust in February 2015 and has since used her technical expertise to manage hundreds of estates. Charlotte thrives on the diversity of the industry, understanding the needs of the client, and conveying even the most technical aspects of estate administration in a personable and transparent way.

Topics: Estate Administration, Intestacy, Wills, Grant of Representation