Rules of intestacy: What happens when you die without a Will

When someone dies without a Will, they are said to have died “intestate” and their estate must be distributed following the rules of intestacy. The intestacy rules are dictated by law in the country where the Deceased was domiciled. Unfortunately, understanding who inherits under the rules of intestacy is not always as straightforward as it may seem.

Many people do not understand the importance of creating a Will to ensure their estate is not left to the rules of intestacy. People often assume that their closest loved ones will inherit even when they die without a Will, but that is not always the case. With changing family dynamics and the rise in blended and cohabiting families, creating a Will is now even more important than ever to ensure your estate is distributed as you wish.

‘Changing family structures: The Will writing industry in 2018’ research paper revealed that many of those most at risk still do not have a Will. In fact, the research found that only:

  • 45% of UK adults have a Will
  • One in three (33%) adults with children in the household have written a Will
  • 30% of adults who are living as married have a Will

The number of cohabiting couples and parents without a Will is particularly worrying as it is more probable that their wishes will not be followed if they were to die intestate. 

The rules of intestacy

Under the rules of intestacy in England and Wales (as an example), if the Deceased has a living husband, wife or civil partner and the estate (in the sole name of the Deceased) is not worth more than £270,000, the spouse or civil partner is entitled to everything. Joint assets pass by survivorship unless specific arrangements over those joint assets have been made.

When the estate is worth more than £270,000 and the person who died has children, the children will receive half of the remaining estate over the £270,000 threshold and the spouse or civil partner is entitled to the other half. For example, if an estate is worth £470,000 (in the sole name of the Deceased), the spouse or civil partner would inherit £370,000 (£270,000 plus £100,000 from half of the remaining estate) and any children would inherit £100,000 split equally between them.

No matter the value of the estate, the spouse or civil partner inherits all the Deceased’s personal belongings when there is no Will.

If the person who died did not have a spouse or civil partner but did have children, the estate would be equally split between the children – or their issue (the deceased’s grandchildren) if they have pre-deceased.

In England and Wales, the order of priority after children is:

  • Living parents
  • Full-blood siblings
  • Half-blood siblings
  • Grandparents
  • Aunts/uncles
  • Half-blood aunts/uncles

In Scotland, great aunts/uncles are entitled after half-blood aunts/uncles. Scotland also has a different legal system where Prior Rights and Legal Rights also apply. These rights are in place to ensure the surviving spouse/civil partner and children are not disinherited from an estate, but similar to estates in England and Wales, assets may not go to where immediate family think it should.

If a relative has passed away, their descendants are entitled to inherit on their behalf. For example, a cousin may inherit if the aunt/uncle has already passed away or a niece/nephew would inherit if a sibling had pre-deceased.

If the Deceased had no surviving relatives, the estate would pass to the Crown (or the relevant Duchy of Lancaster or Cornwall if appropriate).

Our Wills brochure can be downloaded with more information from here which helps you identify who is entitled to inherit when someone dies without making a Will.

The importance of writing a Will

Leaving behind a well-written and valid Will can make the estate administration process clearer and more straightforward. It can often prevent unnecessary stress for loved ones at an already difficult time. If a valid and up-to-date Will has been left, there is a clear outline of how the estate will be distributed, identifying beneficiaries and exactly what they will be inheriting from the estate.

At Farsight Wills we write Wills in Swindon and the surrounding area. Please feel free to contact us for an informal discussion about your needs.