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What happens when a family member dies without a Will?

What happens when a family member dies without a Will?

Figures continue to show that more than two thirds of the population don't have a Will.
A few weeks ago the tragic death of the actor Anton Yelchin, who stars in the latest Star Trek movie, was announced, but it appears he didn't have a Will. It was a sad reminder that no matter who you are, events outwith your control can intervene and cut life short. The circumstances of his death, and in particular whether something was wrong with the car that hit him, is the subject to legal action but another part of the story is a prescient reminder to everyone.

In court papers filed this week, Anton’s parents have petitioned a Californian court to be appointed as the administrators of his sizeable estate. It appears that Anton had not left a Will and therefore the legal processes to deal with such a situation have had to be triggered.

In Scotland, when someone dies without a Will, it is said they have “died intestate”. An executor has to be appointed by the Sheriff Court, and the law determines who might be appointed as Executor (the formal term for the individuals who will administer the estate). The law governing matters is over 50 years’ old. As well as dealing with who can administer the estate and the process to be formally appointed, the law also sets out how a deceased person’s assets are then distributed. The process adds additional expense to the administration of the estate. Yet, recent statistics show a significant minority of people don’t have a Will and when it comes to those under 30, those without Wills are in the majority.

Having a Will ensures that you can make sure the people you want to handle your affairs are in charge. Subject to some limits, it also means you can ensure your possessions and assets go to who you want (or allow you to specifically exclude certain people!). It avoids your loved-ones suffering unnecessary cost and legal processes at a difficult emotional time already. A Will also allows a person to set out their wishes on a whole range of other matters from whether they want to be buried or cremated to who should look after their pets. Even if a person thinks they don’t have much money to leave behind them, that doesn’t diminish the need for a Will. For those with children, a Will also allows provision to be made for those under the age of 16 regarding important issues such as money, schooling and day to day care.

As daily news stories tell us, the world is a very unpredictable place. Thinking about death is something we all try to avoid. But having a Will, no matter your age or circumstances, is something you should consider. Hopefully, its terms will not be applicable for many years but if the worst happens it ensures your wishes are clear and additional grief, uncertainty and stress to those you leave behind may be avoided.

Graeme Dickson is a Legal Director in our Private Client team. If you have any questions about drafting a Will or dealing with the Estate of a family member, please contact Graeme on 01382 229111 or email or contact a member of our Private Client team.

About the author

Graeme Dickson
Graeme Dickson

Graeme Dickson

Legal Director

Wills, Trusts & Succession

For more information, contact Graeme Dickson or any member of the Wills, Trusts & Succession team on +44 131 322 6166.