If you die without leaving a Will you die ‘intestate’. Your Estate will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy. The same will apply if you do leave a Will but if it is invalid or ineffective.
Who can inherit under the rules of intestacy?
If you are married (and for this note this includes those who have entered a Civil Partnership), your spouse may inherit even if you are separated. See the following section as to how much a spouse might inherit; you will see that in many cases spouses do not inherit everything.
If you are divorced your former spouse cannot inherit under the rules of intestacy.
If you are unmarried your partner cannot inherit under the rules of intestacy.
If you have no close relations, it may be distant relations who you do not know who inherit. Intestacy means that you do not get to choose who inherits and it may mean that people close to you may be disappointed that you did take the trouble to make a Will so that they would benefit, as you had intended all along.
Sometimes, however, people who do not inherit under the rules of intestacy may be able to make Inheritance Act claims.
How much can you inherit under the rules of intestacy?
There are detailed rules covering various situations. For example, if the person who has died intestate left children, grandchildren or great grandchildren and their Estate is worth more than £250,000, their spouse will inherit
- all their personal belongings;
- the first £250,000 of their Estate; and
- a life interest in half of the remainder of the Estate.
If you have a life interest it means that you may have the benefit of the property, for example you will be able to occupy it or receive the rents from it, but you do not become the outright owner of it. If the property is an investment you will be able to receive the income from it.
There are, however, two important points to note:
- If you and the person who has died owned a property in joint names and as ‘joint tenants’ you will acquire their interest in that property in any event and the value of it will not count towards the £250,000 (see our notes on Joint Ownership).
- Similarly if you and the person who has died had a joint bank account, you will receive all the monies in the account and again it will not count towards the £250,000.
What do children inherit under the rules of intestacy?
If the person who has died intestate did not leave a surviving spouse, the children will inherit the Estate in equal shares.
If the person who has died intestate did leave a surviving spouse, the children will inherit in equal shares
- One half of the Estate that is above £250,000; and
- The other half of the Estate above £250,000 in which the surviving spouse has a life interest but only when the surviving spouse dies.
There are inevitably some detailed provisions about children, including grandchildren and great grandchildren and there are some circumstances in which other close relatives, such as parents, brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews, may also inherit under the rules of intestacy. These provisions are beyond the scope of this note.
What happens when there are no surviving relatives?
In short, the Estate may revert to the Crown; the position is complicated.