Who Inherits When There is No Will?
27 October 2017
In England and Wales, when someone dies without leaving a valid Will, a set of laws called the Rules of Intestacy determine who inherits what.
If you are responsible for administering a deceased person’s Estate (everything they own) and he/she did not leave a valid Will, you must ensure that you follow the Rules of Intestacy when it comes to distributing the Estate assets to the beneficiaries.
Who Inherits When Someone Dies?
When someone dies, their Estate (meaning all the assets he/she owned) must be passed on. But the matter of who inherits these assets depends on whether or not the deceased left a valid Will. The people who will inherit are called beneficiaries.
If there is a Will, it will say who should inherit from the Estate, and in what proportion. As long as a Will is legally valid, these wishes must be followed after the person’s death.
But what happens if there isn’t a Will, or the Will is found to be legally invalid? The deceased person’s Estate still needs to be passed on – but who gets to be a beneficiary?
That’s where the Rules of Intestacy come in.
What are the Rules of Intestacy?
The Rules of Intestacy set out exactly how an Estate should be distributed when someone dies without a Will. They are created in such a way as to ensure the deceased’s next of kin benefits the most.
Intestacy Order of Priority to Receive Inheritance
Under the Rules of Intestacy, relatives are placed into an ‘order of priority’. This confirms who is first in line to receive an inheritance, who is second, third and so on. The order is as follows:
- Spouse or civil partner
- Grandchildren/great grandchildren
- Aunts and uncles
- Half aunts and half uncles
So if someone dies without a Will, their spouse or civil partner would be entitled to be the main beneficiary, above anyone else. This doesn’t apply to unmarried partners, who aren’t legally entitled to receive anything under the Rules of Intestacy.
If the deceased did not have a spouse, it’s their children who would be the main beneficiaries. And if the deceased didn’t have any children, it would be their grandchildren or great grandchildren, and if this wasn’t applicable, their parents. And so it goes on.
But what makes matters slightly more confusing is that the person who is first in line to receive an inheritance may not inherit the whole Estate. It depends on the value of the Estate, and what other relatives are alive.
For example, if someone dies before their spouse, but does not have any living children, grandchildren or great grandchildren, their spouse will inherit the entire Estate.
But if there are living children, grandchildren or great grandchildren, the spouse will inherit all the deceased’s personal possessions, the first £250,000 of the Estate, and half the remaining Estate. The rest would be distributed amongst the other relatives, again following the order of priority.
So if the deceased had two children, the rest of the Estate would be shared equally between them. But if one of the children had died, leaving behind their own children, they (the deceased’s grandchildren) would inherit the share that would have gone to their parent.
Following the Rules of Intestacy
Therefore the Rules of Intestacy can quickly become complex. If you are the Administrator of an Estate where there is no Will, you need to work out who the beneficiaries are under the Rules of Intestacy, and ensure the Estate is distributed accordingly.
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