What is Intestacy? And what happens if someone dies without leaving a Will?

‘Intestacy’ is when someone dies without leaving a Will. Surprisingly less than half of people in the UK have a valid Will. This means many die without leaving any sort of Will.

When someone dies ‘Intestate’, that is without leaving a valid Will in England and Wales (Scotland have slightly different rules) then their estate (money, property and belongings etc) are divided up according to the ‘Rules of Intestacy’. Only married or civil partners and blood relatives (in a strict order) can inherit when someone dies without leaving a Will. If there are no such relatives then the person’s belongings will go to the Crown.

Married or civil partners inherit under the Rules of Intestacy only if they are actually married, or in a civil partnership, at the time of death. If you are divorced or your civil partnership has legally ended, then you cannot inherit under the Rules of Intestacy. If you are still married or in a civil partnership you can inherit:

  • All the personal property and belongings of the person who died
  • The first £270,000 of the estate
  • Half the remaining estate where there are children – the children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren will inherit the other half. (If there are no surviving children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren, the partner will inherit the whole estate).

Children of the intestate person will inherit once they reach 18, if there is no surviving married or civil partner. Grandchildren or great-grandchildren can only inherit if their parent has died before the Intestate person. It is important to know that stepchildren would not inherit anything at all if you have not made a will.

In some circumstances other close relatives can inherit under the Rules of Intestacy but there would have to be no surviving children or grand or great-grandchildren.

Who cannot inherit from someone who dies intestate?

Unmarried partners
Close friends

If there are no surviving relatives then this is known as Bona Vacantia. The estate passes to the Crown. The Treasury Solicitor is then responsible for dealing with the estate. We have a list of recent unclaimed estates where people have died locally on our website (link)

What happens if someone dies intestate and has jointly owned property and other assets?

There are two ways to jointly own property – as ‘beneficial joint tenants’ or as ‘tenants in common’. Different things would happen with your share of a property if you haven’t made a Will, and this depends on the way you own your home with your partner.

If partners were beneficial joint tenants at the time of death, when the first partner dies the other will automatically inherit the other partner’s share of the property. However, if the partners are tenants in common the surviving partner does not automatically inherit the other’s share of the property. At A R K we will give you advice to help you understand the different way you can own property, so you can decide which is the best option for you.

Couples who have joint bank accounts often think that they will automatically inherit all the money in the account if their partner dies. This is not correct, as half of any funds in any joint account will be subject to the intestacy rules unless it can be proved that the money belongs to the surviving partner in a different percentage.

How to make sure that your estate goes to who you want to inherit it?

The only certain way is to make a Will and detail exactly how you wish your property to be divided after your death. Where couples are married or in a civil partnership it is common that they make Mirror Wills leaving everything to the other partner and specifying what they want to happen on second death. However, so many families are now blended, with children from different relationships and this can add complications. At A R K we are happy to give you advice on this and how best to make sure your wishes can be carried out. For example, it could mean you include a simple trust in your Will (for a small additional cost) that will ensure that your share of any property goes to those you want to have it. See more information on this type of trust on our website (link to Protective Property Trust)

For more information visit http://www.gov.uk/inherits-someone-dies-without-will

Contact us at A R K for advice on making your Will and ensuring that you leave your estate to the family members and loved ones you want to inherit.

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