The rules of intestacy UK
What is intestacy?
Intestacy means dying without having made a valid Will. In England and Wales the intestacy rules set out who can inherit the estate if this happens. Contrary to what many believe, in these circumstances an estate cannot just be divided how the family wishes or how the family feels the deceased would have wanted – instead the intestacy rules apply. These rules do not include unmarried partners or step children. In fact, intestacy provisions not only mean your assets may not pass to those you wish to receive them, they can also potentially be Inheritance Tax (IHT) inefficient
Who can inherit under the rules of intestacy?
It depends on the living relatives of the deceased.
If there is a surviving spouse or civil partner and no children, they will inherit the entire estate.
If there is a surviving spouse/civil partner and children, the spouse/civil partner receives the first £270,000 together with the personal possessions. Any remaining estate is divided so that the spouse/civil partner receives 50% and the children receive the remaining 50% equally between them.
If there are children but no surviving spouse/civil partner, the children inherit the entire estate in equal shares. If any children have predeceased, their children (i.e. grandchildren) will inherit their share of the estate.
If there is no surviving spouse and no children then the estate moves down the family tree to include parents, grandparents, brother and sisters, nieces and nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins.
Who inherits money if no one will?
If the entire list of family members set out by law is exhausted then the estate will pass to the Crown. This is known as bona vacantia.
Can intestacy rules be challenged?
Yes, certain categories of people can make a claim against the estate if they feel they have not been adequately provided for. This is a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Those who can make a claim include a spouse or civil partner, a child, someone who was treated as a child of the deceased (e.g. step-children) and someone who immediately before death was being maintained either wholly or partly by the deceased. This could include a long term partner. More information about this can be found here on our Inheritance Act Claims page,
What happens if members of the same family all die at the same time without leaving Wills?
In this situation, the order of death has to be determined. If the order of deaths is unknown the law states that the eldest person is deemed to have died first. Each estate is then looked at separately taking into account the order of deaths to determine who will inherit under the intestacy rules.
An example would be that a father, mother and child all die in an accident. The father is eldest and is deemed to have died first, then the mother and finally the child. We take the father’s estate first, he left a surviving spouse but as she failed to survive for 28 days is deemed to have died before him. He left a child but they failed to attain the age of 18 and therefore don’t benefit from the estate. Therefore the wider family tree is investigated as set out above. Then the mother’s estate and finally the child’s estate would be investigated in the same way.
What happens if there is no knowledge of surviving relatives?
In this instance, we would recommend instructing genealogists to investigate the family tree. They will check the birth, deaths and marriage records of the deceased and their family tree to try to locate any living relatives. If no relatives are found the estate will pass to the crown.
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