Who takes charge if there is no will?

If you (or someone else) believes that someone who has died has left a will, but no one can find it, you can take steps to find out if they made one by:

phoning or writing to solicitors and banks which the person might have used;
placing advertisements in newspapers and legal journals;

searching the belongings of the person who has died for any evidence that they made a will (for example, a letter from a solicitor); and

applying to the Principal registry to see if the person who died left their will there.

If there is no will, the person’s Estate will be shared out under the ‘rules of intestacy’.

These rules set out:

who deals with the estate; and
who benefits from it.

The person who will deal with the estate is chosen in a set order, according to who exists. They are:

1. The husband or wife of the person who has died (but not a partner they were not married to).
2. Their children or their descendants (for example, grandchildren, if they are over 18).
3. Their parents.
4. Their brothers or sisters with the same mother and father.
5. Their half brothers or half sisters (who had either the same mother or the same father).
6. Their grandparents.
7. Their uncles and aunts ‘of the whole blood’ (this means brothers and sisters of their parents, as long as they had the same mother and father themselves).
8. Their uncles and aunts ‘of the half blood’ (this means brothers and sisters of their parents who had only the same mother or father).
9. The Crown (the state) if there are no relatives.

‘Letters of administration’ serves the same purpose as probate if there is no will. You apply for letters of administration in the same way you would apply for probate. As with probate, you may not have to apply for letters of administration if the person’s estate was not worth very much.

If an Administrator deals with all the matters personally (rather than using a solicitor to do this), they will be personally liable if they don’t follow the ‘rules of entitlement’ (the rules governing who gets what) correctly.

If several people have an equal right to deal with the estate (for example, brothers and sisters), letters of administration will normally be given to the first of these people to apply.

However, there can be a problem when, for example, the dead person has several brothers or sisters who all want to be in charge of the funeral or administration. If they cannot come to an agreement about this themselves, they would have to apply to the Probate Court, which will decide who will be responsible. This process is complicated and you would need help from a solicitor if you were in this position.