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What happens when someone dies without leaving a will?

View profile for Heather Varley
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When a person dies without leaving a valid will they are said to have died intestate. Dealing with their estate can be very complicated.

If this happens to one of your relatives, it is advisable to seek legal advice as soon as possible, as the law sets out who should then inherit their estate (their money, property and possessions). Usually a close relative like a spouse, parent or child will have the right to deal with the estate of the person who has died.

Private Client Associate, Heather Varley is a specialist in drafting wills for our clients. She explains, “To be able to administer someone’s estate you need to apply for a ‘Grant of Letters of Administration’ from the Probate Registry - we will help with this. Once this has been approved you then become the administrator and the grant is proof of your authority to access bank or building society accounts and other organisations that were held in the name of the deceased. If the estate is liable for Inheritance Tax some or all of this must be paid before a grant will be issued. Rules regarding inheritance were changed in 2009 and are complex. We will guide you through the steps needed, but generally the first person entitled to inherit from the estate is a spouse or civil partner, although they are not guaranteed to receive all of it.”

If a couple were not married or registered civil partners, the surviving partner will not automatically get a share of the estate.

If you feel that you have not received reasonable financial provision from the estate, it is possible to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. To make a claim you must prove that you have been wholly or partly maintained by the deceased and a claim must be made within six months of the date of the grant of letters of administration. This is a very complicated process and a specialist solicitor’s advice should be sought. Frettens are one of very few firms in Dorset and Hampshire to have a specialist and highly experienced solicitor dealing with contested and disputed wills, Michelle Hayter.

If you are affected by any of the aspects of this article, please contact Heather or Michelle who will be happy to help with you questions. Both lawyers offer a free initial appointment – call 01202 499255 to arrange a suitable time to discuss your situation with them.