Whatever you leave when you die is called your estate. It’s made up of everything you own (or your share of things you own jointly) minus everything you owe (debt).
If you die without making a will, the law decides who will inherit your estate. The law favours a husband, wife or civil partner and your children (including adopted children but not step-children). When you die, your estate may be split between your spouse or civil partner, and your children.
An unmarried partner has no legal right to inherit anything. But they may be able to apply to a court for financial support from your estate. Other relatives and friends may also be able to do this.
If you don’t have a husband, wife, civil partner or children, your estate may go to your parents or siblings (depending on which UK nation you live in). If there are no relatives, the state gets everything. This may not be the way you would like to leave your money and possessions, so writing a will could be very important.
To find out exactly what the law says about inheritance without a will where you live, use the online tool at gov.uk/inherits-someone-dies-without-will
If you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, you have to be at least 18 to make a will. If you live in Scotland, you have to be at least 16.
If someone dies before they are old enough to make a will, the law decides how their estate is passed on. If they were married, their husband, wife or civil partner will normally inherit everything. Otherwise, their parents will normally inherit everything.
Their estate might include money that has been invested for them in a Child Trust Fund or Junior Individual Savings Account (JISA).
You may own something jointly with one or more people. There are two ways of owning things jointly. What happens to the possession after you die depends on the way it is owned.
Shares that cannot be distinguished
Where more than one person owns something and they all have an equal share, this is known as:
When you die, the survivor(s) will inherit your share.
Joint bank and savings accounts are always owned in this way. Transferring money to a joint account is a simple way to make sure your partner has immediate access to cash if you die.
When each owner has their own share of the possession, this is called:
The shares do not have to be equal. When you die, your share will become part of your estate. This means it will be passed on in the way you’ve written in your will. Or if you don’t have a will, it will be passed on according to the law (visit To find out exactly what the law says about inheritance without a will where you live, use the online tool at gov.uk/inherits-someone-dies-without-will.