When somebody passes away either without leaving a will, or having left a will which is not valid legally, they are known as an intestate person. What happens to their estate then is decided by something called the rules of intestacy. The rules of intestacy most recently changed on 1st October 2014. This article reflects those changes.
Only married or civil partners and certain close relatives can inherit under the rules of intestacy. Unmarried partners and lesbian or gay partners not in a civil partnership have absolutely no right to inherit under the rules of intestacy, regardless of how long they have been living together. Relations by marriage, close friends and carers also have no right to inherit.
Married and civil partners
Married partners or civil partners inherit under the rules of intestacy if they are married or in a civil partnership at the time of death. You cannot inherit if you are divorced or if your civil partnership has been legally ended, but you can inherit if you have separated informally. If there are surviving children, grandchildren or great grandchildren and the estate is valued at less than £250,000 then the married partner or civil partner inherits everything. If the estate is valued at more than £250,000, the partner inherits all the “chattels”, the first £250,000 of the estate, and half of the remaining estate. The remaining half is divided equally between the children. If there are no surviving children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren, the partner inherits all the personal belongings and the whole of the estate. Chattels are personal belongings, and defined as anything that is not monetary, business assets or held as an investment.
Children, grandchildren and great grandchildren
When there is no surviving married or civil partner, the children will inherit the whole estate, regardless of the value. If there are two or more children the estate will be divided equally between them. Adopted children have the right to inherit. Children can only inherit when the reach the age of 18, or if they marry or form a civil partnership under this age. Until then, their inheritance is managed on their behalf by trustees.
Grandchildren or great grandchildren only inherit if their parent or grandparent has died before the intestate person, or if their parent was alive when the intestate person died but then died before reaching the age of 18 without having married or formed a civil partnership. Grandchildren or great grandchildren inherit equal shares of the share which their parent or grandparent would have been entitled.
Other close relatives
Next in line are parents, then brothers and sisters or their descendants if brothers and sisters have already passed away, then half-brothers and half-sisters or their descendants if half-brothers and half-sisters have already passed away. If the intestate person didn’t have any of these alive, then the next to inherit are grandparents, then uncles and aunts or cousins if the uncle or aunt have already passed away, and then half-uncles and half-aunts, or half-cousins if the half-uncle or half-aunt have already passed away.
If there are no close relatives
If there are no surviving close relatives, the estate passes to the Crown and the Treasury Solicitor who becomes responsible for dealing with the estate. This is known as bona vacantia.
If you do not make a will it is therefore possible that your estate will be distributed in a way that you would not have chosen. In order to make sure that your wishes are carried out, you should make sure that you have a valid will. For more information about wills, inheritance and estates, please click here to read our online guide.