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Rules of Intestacy

When someone dies without a will, their estate is divided up according to standard rules known as intestacy law.

As set out in the Inheritance and Trustees’ Power Act, the rules determine who inherits what based on family connections. The rules don’t take into account the closeness of your relationships, or who is most in need.

If a close relative or friend dies without a will, you can apply to become the administrator of their estate. This means you’ll value the estate, settle any debts and distribute inheritances according to the intestacy rules.

The Rules

The intestacy rules determine how the estate of someone who dies without a will is distributed.

The rules will allocate your estate to your family members in a strict order, depending on which relatives you leave behind.

Usually, your spouse or civil partner will inherit the bulk of your estate (though unmarried partners won’t inherit anything).

The following cases show how the intestacy rules apply in England and Wales:

Married or in a civil partnership AND has children:

The husband, wife or civil partner keeps all the assets (including property), up to £270,000, and all the personal possessions, whatever their value.

The remainder of the estate will be shared as follows:

  • The husband, wife or civil partner gets an absolute interest in half of the remainder
  • The other half is then divided equally between the surviving children

          If a son or daughter (or other child where the deceased had a parental role) has already died, their children will inherit in their place.

Married or in a civil partnership but has NO children:

Their spouse will receive all personal possessions and the proceeds of the estate.

Unmarried AND has children or grandchildren:

The children will receive the proceeds of the entire estate when they turn 18. If there is more than one child, each will receive an equal share.

If the child is deceased, grandchildren or great-grandchildren can inherit their parent’s share.

Adopted and biological children are treated equally. Step-children do not qualify unless legally adopted.

Unmarried with NO children:

The entire estate will go to the following relatives, in this order: 

  • Their parents
  • If parents are deceased, to their brothers and sisters (with full siblings coming before half-siblings)
  • If they have no siblings or surviving parents, to their grandparents
  • If grandparents are also deceased, to uncles and aunts or their children

Unmarried with no living relatives

The entire estate will go to the Crown.

When is a will invalid?

Just because someone has written a will doesn’t necessarily mean it’s still valid when they die.

Certain actions, such as getting married, will over-ride a pre-existing will, so it’s important to review wills periodically. 

If a will exists, but is deemed invalid, the estate will be treated as intestate and divided according to the intestacy rules (as above).

Make sure your will is in order and get in touch today.

Risks of dying without a will in place

Dying without a will may inadvertently disinherit the people closest to you. Common scenarios include the following:

  • Unmarried partners will never benefit if you die intestate, even if you live together. The only way to make sure your estate is left to your partner is to get married (or enter a civil partnership) or to write a will.
  • Step-children or foster children cannot inherit from your estate unless you explicitly provide for them in a will.
  • In England and Wales, any previous will is invalidated when you marry. Unless you make a new will, your estate will be divided according to the intestacy rules. This means your new spouse will inherit the majority of your assets, potentially leaving nothing for your children.
  • The rules don’t take people’s needs into account. If another person is dependent on you, they could be cut off if the rules don’t allow them to inherit.
  • Your estate could end up being passed to a distant relative, or estranged family member.

To ensure those you wish to inherit from your estate actually do so, contact us today to arrange a will.