If someone dies without leaving a will, they are known as an intestate person and the division of their estate and assets are decreed by law, known as the rules of intestacy. This also occurs if the deceased left a will, but it is not legally valid.
In order to avoid confusion and complications further down the line, it’s imperative to ensure that you and your loved ones write a legally valid will, even though the idea might seem like an uncomfortable one. In the case that no will is written, the estate will be divided as follows.
Who can inherit
Under the rules of intestacy, only marital spouses, civil partners or blood relatives can inherit assets from an intestate person. This means that common-law partners (those living together or in a long-term relationship but not married and not engaged in a civil partnership) cannot inherit. Similarly, those who have divorced or had their civil partnership dissolved cannot inherit.
Spouses and civil partners are first in line for inheritance. In the case of a joint bank account, joint building society account or joint tenancy, the entirety of the assets will automatically transfer to the surviving partner and are not counted among the inheritable estate. This is also true of all of the deceased’s personal belongings. However, this does not apply to tenants in common. For more information on the difference between beneficial joint tenants and tenants in common, see this article from the Citizens Advice Bureau.
For all other assets, the spouse or civil partner will inherit the majority of the assets, with children, grandchildren, siblings, parents and other relatives only inheriting if the value of the estate is above a certain amount.
Division of inheritance
The deceased’s husband, wife or civil partner will inherit the entirety of their estate, if the total value of it is under £250,000. If the value is higher than that amount, they will inherit the first £250,000, plus half the remaining total of the estate. It is only after these amounts have been deducted that the inheritance will fall to other family members, starting with children.
The order of inheritance for the remainder of the estate is as follows: children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, half-uncles and half-aunts, half-cousins. The inheritance will fall to each tier of relative and will be divided equally among the surviving family members in that tier, unless there are none, in which case it will fall to the next tier.
If the deceased has no surviving family whatsoever, the estate will go to the Crown and will become property of HM Treasury. This is known as bona vacantia.
Appealing decisions and deeds of family arrangement
Those ineligible for inheritance under the rules of intestacy, but who believe they have a legitimate claim to the assets of the deceased (such as unmarried partners or those not in a civil partnership, unofficially adopted children or lifelong friends or carers), may apply for financial provision from the court. In order to do this it will be necessary to contract a solicitor to help with the process.
Similarly, if the surviving members of a family are not happy with the distribution of the deceased’s assets under intestacy rules, they can make a deed of family arrangement. This allows them to redistribute the estate as to how they see fit, but requires unanimous agreement from all involved parties to be a viable option. It also requires the services of a solicitor.
Get in touch
If you still have questions or queries about what to do if someone dies without a will, browse our Advice Centre or give us a call on 01983 754 387. We’re waiting to take your call today.