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Without a Will are Blood Relatives Entitled to Inherit More?

2nd July 2018

In England and Wales, when someone dies without a valid Will, the inheritance laws will determine who is entitled to inherit from them. These laws prioritise spouses or civil partners, followed by blood relatives. They do not acknowledge unmarried partners, step children, friends or in-laws.

For free initial advice and guidance call our Probate Advisors on 03306069584 or contact us online and we will help you.

What Happens Without a Will?

Where a person dies without making a Will, or the Will is not legally valid, this situation is known as 'intestacy' or 'dying intestate'.

In these circumstances, there is a set of rules which determines who is entitled to inherit the Estate and the order of entitlement. These are called the Rules of Intestacy, and the order is as follows:

  • Spouse/civil partner
  • Children (or grandchildren/great-grandchildren etc.)
  • Parents
  • Brothers and sisters of the whole blood or their issue
  • Brothers and sisters of the half blood or their issue
  • Grandparents
  • Uncles and aunts of the whole blood or their issue
  • Uncles and aunts of the half blood or their issue
  • The Crown.

The word "issue" means direct descendants, for example children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren etc. For example, if a brother or sister of the deceased died before them but left children, the children (nieces or nephews of the deceased) can inherit their parent's share.

"Half blood" refers to relatives that only share one common ancestor with the deceased, and whole blood is where they share two. For example, half brothers or sisters would only share one parent with the deceased whereas whole brothers and sisters would share both a father and a mother with them.

How Will the Estate Be Divided?

How the Estate will be split depends on if there is a surviving spouse, if there are children, and the value of the Estate.

When there is a Surviving Spouse

If there is a surviving spouse and issue of the deceased and the Estate is worth over £250,000, the surviving spouse will inherit:

  • All the personal belongings of the person who has died
  • The first £250,000 of the Estate
  • Half of the remaining Estate.

The issue of the person who has died will inherit the other half of the remaining Estate, split equally between them if there are more than one. If a child of the deceased has already died leaving children of their own (grandchildren of the deceased), these grandchildren will inherit their parent's share, split equally between them if there are more than one.

If the Estate is worth less than £250,000, then the spouse will inherit all of this and nothing will pass to the children.

If there is a surviving spouse and no surviving children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren, the spouse will inherit:

  • All the personal belongings of the person who has died
  • The whole of the remaining Estate

In this situation, other relatives such as parents or siblings are not entitled to a share of the Estate.

When there is No Surviving Spouse

If there is no surviving spouse or issue, the next in line to inherit would be the parents. If they have already died, you move on to the next in line and carry on down the order of entitlement until a living relative is found.

If there are no surviving relatives, then under the Rules of Intestacy, the Estate passes to the Crown. This is known as Bona Vacantia, meaning that the Estate is unclaimed. The Government has a public list of unclaimed Estates which is updated every day.

This situation is quite unusual as normally it is possible to trace at least one distant relative, such as a cousin of the deceased who is entitled to share in the Estate. They may not have been in contact with the person who has died for many years and it can be a surprise to learn they are entitled to inherit some of the Estate.

Are Step-Children and Adopted Children Entitled to Inherit?

In the case of step-children, they have no right to inherit from the Estate of their step-parent. However, if a child is legally adopted they are entitled to inherit under the Rules of Intestacy and are treated in the same way as a birth child. Once a child has been adopted, they are no longer entitled to inherit from their birth parents under the intestacy rules.

For more information, see Are Inheritance Rules Different for Adopted Children?

Are Partners Entitled to Inherit?

The intestacy rules are strict and only direct family can inherit under the Rules of Intestacy. As such under the current intestacy rules people such as unmarried partners, or those not in a Civil Partnership, friends and relations by marriage have no right to inherit from the Estate. In addition, divorced spouses are not entitled to inherit under the intestacy rules.

Many people wrongly believe unmarried cohabiting partners (sometimes called 'common law partners') will inherit their Estate. However, in England and Wales there is no such thing as a common law marriage. Under the Rules of Intestacy these partners will not be entitled to anything, no matter how long they have lived together or even if they have children together.

It is possible for an unmarried partner to make a claim for financial provision from the Estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 if they meet certain conditions. There is a time limit to make a claim on the Estate so it is important to deal with matters quickly which can cause additional stress and worry at a difficult time.

The fixed Rules of Intestacy can lead to difficult and upsetting situations and shows the importance of making a Will to ensure your Estate is distributed according to your wishes. This is especially important for unmarried couples living together or people with step-children.

For free initial advice and guidance call our Probate Advisors on 03306069584 or contact us online and we will help you.

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