What happens if a person dies without a will?

If a person dies without leaving a will this is known as dying “intestate”. This can also happen if a person has a will, but the will is invalid because, for example they did not have proper mental capacity or if the formal requirements for a valid will have not been met.

If a person dies intestate, the law determines how the estate will be divided after the payment of all their debts. The rules for intestate succession are anything but simple and can vary depending on both the size of the estate and the number and class of relatives remaining after a person’s death. In addition to that, working out how the rules apply, and who is entitled to be the Administrator is often a very time-consuming process and can lead to unnecessary disputes over the estate and large extra costs. This can lead to a huge amount of frustration for the surviving family members involved in the administration of the estate.

Normally a person will nominate an executor who will deal with the estate in their will. If there is no will, a family member of the deceased must make an application to the Probate Office of the Supreme Court for permission to administer the estate. The person making the application must be over 18 and entitled to a share of the inheritance. The appointed person is known as the administrator of the estate. If no one takes this responsibility, the Public Trustee will administer the estate. The process for being appointed, and the duties of the Administrator, can be confusing and often require the assistance of a lawyer.