A summary of how a person’s estate is distributed if they die without a will
The rules of intestacy explained
It’s easy to assume that our property and possessions will automatically go to loved ones when we die, however, this is sadly not always the case.
Who has a claim to the estate?
When someone dies, if they have left a valid will, this sets out how their estate should be divided.
If the deceased has not left a will and has died intestate, then inheritance rules called to rules of intestacy will determine who is entitled to inherit from the estate.
If you are responsible for an estate without a will, you must follow the rules of intestacy when distributing the estate.
The rules of intestacy and inheritance law explained
When someone dies without a valid will there are strict inheritance laws, often referred to as the rules of intestacy, which apply in England and Wales.
The rules of intestacy don’t allow for modern family relationships. For example, they make no provision for unmarried and unregistered partners. This means that on intestacy, the surviving partner will not automatically inherit any of the property and possessions owned in the sole name of the deceased. However, a partner can often make a valid inheritance claim instead, or the family can legally vary the distribution on intestacy to provide for the partner.
The rules of intestacy also only recognise natural and adopted children for the purpose of inheritance; they do not acknowledge step children. However, in many cases step children can often have a valid claim.
Under the rules of intestacy, the estate will be divided between their relatives in a certain way.
If the person who died was married or in a civil partnership and has no children, all of their estate will go to their spouse or civil partner.
If the person who died was married or in a civil relationship but does have children, the first £270,000 of their estate will go to their spouse or civil partner, along with any of their personal possessions. Anything over £270,000 will then be divided, with the spouse or civil partner receiving 50% of this and the children entitled to divide the other 50% between them.
If the person who died wasn't married or in a civil partnership, but was living with their long term partner, this partner will not be entitled to receive anything. Cohabiting partners and long term partners are not protected under the rules of intestacy. The law does not recognise the concept of a ‘common law marriage’.
If the person who died wasn't married or in a civil partnership, but does have children, the whole estate will go to them. If there are no children, then the estate could go to the parents, siblings or other relatives.
It is important to note that jointly held assets may not pass under the rules of intestacy but instead pass to the surviving joint owner. This is the case where a house is owned with someone else as ‘joint tenants’ or there's a joint bank account. It works differently for property owned jointly as 'tenants in common' though. For more information, see joint tenants and tenants in common.
The only way to make it absolutely clear who should inherit your property and possessions after you pass away is by making a will.
Administering an estate under the rules of intestacy
When an adult person with assets, such as property, money and possessions, dies without a valid will they are said to have died intestate. In these circumstances the rules of intestacy will apply and these rules determine who will administer, and who benefits from, the deceased’s estate.
In these circumstances, before it can be determined who the beneficiaries are, the first step is to establish who should be administering the estate.
When identifying estate administrators and beneficiaries, great care should be taken to avoid mistakes. An estate administrator can be held personally financially liable for any loss resulting from a breach of their duty, even if mistakes were genuine errors.
This is where our probate and estate administration expertise has been invaluable for thousands of our customers across England and Wales.
What is partial intestacy?
Partial intestacy is when the terms of the will don't actually deal with the whole of estate. This can happen if the will hasn't been properly drafted.
With partial intestacy, some assets are dealt with under the will, but other assets are dealt with in accordance with the rules of intestacy. This could happen if the will doesn't say what should happen to the rest of the estate after all the other gifts have been dealt with. Another example of when a partial intestacy might occur is if all of the beneficiaries named in the will have already died and no substitutes have been named.
Our probate team includes specialist probate solicitors and lawyers, plus probate consultants, case managers and advisors. Co-op Legal Services is the largest provider of probate services in England and Wales.
When you choose our probate complete service we take on all the responsibility and potential liability of administering the estate. This includes dealing with Inheritance Tax, Income Tax, Capital Gains Tax (not VAT), liquidating or transferring assets and distributing the estate to the beneficiaries.
With our probate complete service you will be provided with a dedicated case handler and expert service. Best of all, you will no longer have to bear the burdens and responsibilities for the effective administration of the estate, giving you peace of mind.
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