The rules of Intestacy
A person who dies without a will is called an intestate person. This means that their estate must be shared out according to the rules of intestacy.
These rules state that only married or civil partners and some close relatives can inherit in these circumstances.
The same rules are followed if a person makes a will that is not legally valid.
Married and Civil Partners
You can only inherit if you were actually married or in a civil partnership at the time of death.
No other circumstances apply under these rules. Therefore, cohabiting partners (those neither married or in a civil partnership) cannot inherit under intestacy rule. However informally separated partners can still inherit.
If there are children (or other direct descendants) and the estate is worth more than £250,000 the partner will inherit:
· all personal property for the decreased,
· the first 250,000, and
· half of the remaining estate.
If there are no children (or other direct descendants), the partner will inherit:
· all personal property of the deceased, and
· the whole of the estate with interest from the date of death.
Some couples may jointly-own their home, but there are two different ways of doing this: beneficial joint tenancies and tenancies in common.
If the couple were beneficial joint tenants then the surviving partner automatically inherits the other’s share of the property. However, if the couple were tenants in common, the above does not automatically happen.
Couples may also have joint bank or building society accounts. In these circumstances, the surviving partner would inherit the whole value of the account.
Property and money inherited by the surviving partner – if the couple jointly-owned it – does not count as part of the estate of the deceased when it is being valued for the intestacy rules.
Children will inherit the whole estate if there is no surviving partner. If there are two or more children the estate will be split equally between them.
However, if there is a surviving partner, children will only inherit if one half of the value of the estate is above £250,000. This half will also be split equally if there is more than one child.
All children of the intestate person can inherit equally from the estate, including children from different relationships.
Adopted children (including adopted step-children) have the right to inherit under the intestacy rules.
Children receive their inheritance when they:
· reach the age of 18, or
· marry or form a civil partnership before this age.
Until one of the above if fulfilled, trustees manage the inheritance.
Grandchildren and Great Grandchildren:
Grandchildren or great grandchildren cannot inherit from the estate unless:
· their parent or grandparent died before the intestate person, or
· their parent is alive when the intestate person does but dies before reaching the age of 18 without having married or formed a civil partnership.
If this were to happen the grandchildren or great grandchildren would inherit equal shares of what their parent or grandparent would have been entitled to
Other close relatives:
Parents, siblings and nieces and nephews may inherit from the intestate person under the intestacy rules, but this depends on a number of circumstances:
· whether there is a surviving partner,
· whether there is surviving children, grandchildren or great grandchildren,
· for nieces and nephews, whether the parent directly related to the deceased is also dead, and
· the value of the estate.
If none of the above can inherit, the order of priority is as follows:
· uncles and aunts – a cousin may inherit instead if the uncle or aunt related to the deceased died before the intestate person, and
· half-uncles and half-aunts – a half-cousin may inherit instead if the half-uncle or half-aunt related to the deceased died before the intestate person.
Who cannot inherit if there is no will?
· unmarried partners,
· partners not in a civil partnership,
· relations by marriage,
· close friends, and
If there are no surviving relatives
If there are no surviving relatives who can inherit under the intestacy rules, then the estate passed to the Crown. This is known as bona vacantia and then the Treasury Solicitor is responsible for the estate. The Crown can make grants from the estate but they do not have to do so.
Rearranging the inheritance of the estate
It is possible to rearrange the inheritance of an estate when a person dies without a will, for two years after the death. This is called making a deed of family arrangements or variation.
For this to take place, all who could inherit under the intestacy rules must agree that:
· the estate can be shared out in different ways so that those who would otherwise not inherit under the intestacy rules can have a share of the estate, or
· they can agree that the amount people get is different than what they would have received under the intestacy rules.