If there is no will
When a person dies without making a will, they are said to have died intestate. When this happens, the law sets out the order in which the deceased’s property is distributed.
About 70% of people who die in the UK each year die intestate.
In this case you, as next of kin, will assume responsibility for appointing a funeral director, registering the death and making arrangements for the funeral.
Appointment as administrator
Later on, as the deceased person’s closest relative, you will need to make an application to the probate registry for a grant of letters of administration. Under the grant, you will be appointed as administrator and given the legal right to deal with the deceased’s estate.
The job of the administrator entails collecting together the deceased person’s assets and paying off their debts, then settling any inheritance tax liability before distributing the net balance of the estate to the appropriate people in accordance with the rules of intestacy.
Who is next of kin?
The question arises on occasion as to who specifically is the next of kin and hence responsible for taking charge when someone dies intestate.
Order of priority
There is no legal definition for next of kin but the rules of intestacy sets out the following order of priority as to who is the closest living relative.
1. The lawful husband or wife or civil partner of the deceased person. A common-law partner (this means an unmarried or unregistered partner) does not have an entitlement to a grant.
2. Their sons or daughters aged eighteen or older (or their descendants if they have predeceased). Step-children are excluded.
3. Their parents.
4. Their brothers or sisters (or their descendants if they have predeceased) with the same mother and father.
5. Their half-brothers or half-sisters (or their descendants if they have predeceased) who had either the same mother or the same father
6. Their grandparents.
7. Their uncles or aunts ‘of the whole blood’ (or their descendants if they have predeceased). This means brothers and sisters of the deceased’s parents provided that they in turn had the same mother or father themselves.
8. Their uncles and aunts ‘of the half blood’ (or their descendants if they have predeceased). This means brothers and sisters of the deceased’s parents who had only the same mother of father.
9. The crown. If the deceased person has no relatives then the state will make the application.
If several people have an equal right
Clearly, there may be more than one person who has an equal right to be appointed as administrators. In this situation these people will usually make one application. A maximum of four applicants is allowed. They will receive the grant of letters of administration and will then administer the estate together.
If more than one application is made by people of equal right then the grant will usually be given to the first of these people to make the application.
If a dispute arises
If a dispute arises as to who should receive the grant then the relatives involved must apply to the probate court. The court will decide who will be given the responsibility.
As the process involved is complicated, lengthy and likely to be expensive it is much better for a family to reach agreement among themselves.
An application for a grant of letters of administration is not always required
You should note that an application to the probate registry is not always required.
If the deceased person leaves less than £5,000 in total or owned everything jointly with someone else, or if the financial institutions involved (such as the deceased’s bank) agree to pay the funds under their control to the administrator(s) then the estate can be sorted without a grant.
If the deceased person leaves more than £5,000 in cash, stocks and shares, property or certain insurance policies then an application must be made as a grant will be necessary.
The information which we provide through Lasting Post is in outline for information or educational purposes only. The information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a solicitor, accountant or other professional adviser. We cannot guarantee that information provided by Lasting Post will meet your individual needs, as this will very much depend on your individual circumstances. You should therefore use the information only as a starting point for your enquiries.