Law of intestacy – what happens if I die without a Will?

What happens if I die without a Will?

Liam Hastings of Hastings & Co Solicitors based in Chelmsford, Essex looks at the Law of Intestacy and how this applies to people who die without a will.

When a person dies and they have not made a will, it is said they have died ‘intestate’ and their estate is divided according to ‘the law of intestacy’. In effect the law decides what happens to the deceased person’s estate. This can have some surprising results.

The Law of Intestacy

Let’s look at how the Law of Intestacy applies in different situations.

A married couple or civil partners with surviving children, grandchildren or great children

If the estate held in the deceased’s sole name (or jointly as tenants in common with another) is valued at more than £250,000 the surviving spouse or civil partner will inherit:-

  • All personal effects and belongings of the person who has died; and
  • The first £250,000 of the estate; and
  • A life interest in half of the remaining estate (with the other half being distributed amongst children, grandchildren or great grandchildren as the case may be).

It may surprise some people to learn that their spouse or civil partner may not automatically inherit everything if they die without a will.

A married person or civil partners without surviving children, grandchildren or great grandchildren

If there are surviving parents, or brothers, or sisters, or nieces, or nephews, the surviving spouse or civil partner will inherit:

  • All personal property and belongings of the person who has died; and
  • The first £450,000 of the estate held in the deceased’s sole name (or jointly as tenants in common with another); and
  • One half of the remaining estate (with the other half being distributed amongst other relatives as the case may be).

Once again, it may be a surprise to learn that their spouse or civil partner does not automatically inherit everything.

If the married couple or civil partners die together, say in an accident, the law deems that the oldest person died first. It follows therefore that the estate of the eldest person will pass to the estate of the youngest person (subject to the rules as stated above). The estate of the youngest person will then be distributed according to the rules of intestacy. This could lead to everything passing to the younger person’s family with the older person’s family missing out.

Unmarried couples

The Intestacy Rules make no provision for unmarried couples, no matter how long they have been in a relationship. Therefore, solely held assets (or those held jointly as tenants in common) will not pass to their partner but will pass to the nearest blood relative(s).

If someone has died without a will can anything be done after the death to change how the estate is distributed?

It is possible for the beneficiaries to agree to vary the will, or intestacy rules, however this does require all the beneficiaries to agree to the variation. Or there may be a claim under the Inheritance (Provisions for Family and Dependents) Act 1976. However, these solutions are more expensive than making wills and will involve other people that may wish to dispute the proposed changes.

Conclusions

The Laws of Intestacy will not suit everyone and in some cases will result in unintended consequences. These consequences can be easily avoided by making wills.

Hastings & Co Solicitors specialise in litigation including contentious probate disputes and disputes about wills. Please telephone Liam Hastings on 01245 835 305 for further advice or assistance.

Disclaimer: we have not attempted to explain all the rules or all situations. This blog is intended to give a brief overview of the law and does not substitute for independent legal advice.

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