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Intestacy Rules: Dying without a will

Intestacy Rules: Dying without a will

Our guide outlines the main rules of inheritance if you die without making a will. 

Kamran Altaf
From the Life team
3
minute read
posted 4 NOVEMBER 2019

What is a will?

A will is a legal document setting out how you pass on your assets when you die, and includes who should take care of any minors who are under the age of 18. If there’s no valid will in place when you die, your inheritance might not go where you want it to. 

Who’s in charge of your estate?

Your will names the person (or people) in charge of your estate when you die, known as the executors. Your estate is the total of any money, property and possessions you have when you pass away. It’s the executors’ job to make sure any expenses – such as funeral costs or outstanding debts – are paid first. After this, the remaining assets from your estate can go where you want them to.

What happens if you die without a will?

If you die without leaving a legally binding will it’s known as dying ‘intestate’. In this situation, your estate will be shared between your partner and your family according to the rules of intestacy.

Who inherits under the rules of intestacy?

If you die without a will, the only people who can automatically inherit under the rules of intestacy are married or civil partners, along with some relatives such as children, grandchildren or siblings.

Married or civil partners will only inherit an estate if they were married or in a civil partnership at the time of their partner’s death. If there are surviving children, grandchildren or great grandchildren of the person who died – and the estate is valued at more than £250,000 – the partner inherits:

  • all the personal property and belongings of the person who has died
  • the first £250,000 of the estate (or, the whole estate if it’s worth less than £250,000)

The (anything over but under 450k) remainder of the estate goes to the children or grandchildren with the following priority:

  • children – or, if there aren’t any, grandchildren – will get an equal share
  • if there aren’t any children or grandchildren, surviving parents of the deceased will get a share
  • if there are no children, grandchildren or surviving parents, any brothers and sisters of the deceased will get a share (or, their children will if the siblings died before the deceased did)
  • if the deceased has none of the above, the husband, wife or civil partner will inherit the entire estate.

Following on from the rules above, if the estate is worth more than £450,000 and there are no surviving children, grandchildren or great grandchildren, but there are surviving parents of the deceased, the partner will inherit:

  • all the personal property and belongings of the person who has died
  • the first £450,000 of the estate
  • half of the remaining estate, with the rest going to the deceased’s parents

Who can’t inherit under the rules of intestacy?

Typically, those who can’t inherit when there’s no legally binding will are:

  • unmarried partners
  • partners not in a civil partnership
  • friends or carers

In short, you can’t inherit under the rules of intestacy if you’re divorced; your civil partnership has ended; or you’re partners living together and aren’t married.

However, even if you can't inherit under the rules of intestacy you may be able to apply to a court for financial help from the estate.

What happens to an estate if there are no surviving relatives?

If a person dies without any living relatives, and there’s no will, their estate will go to the Crown. This is known as bona vacantia (meaning ‘ownerless goods’). The Treasury Solicitor is then responsible for dealing with the estate. Find out more about bona vacantia on the GOV.UK website.

Can the way a property is shared under intestacy rules be challenged?

There are times when you can challenge how a property is shared when someone dies without leaving a will. The process is called making a deed of family arrangement or variation, and this needs to be done within two years of the death.

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