What are the rules of intestacy and what do they mean for friends and family?

According to recent research, millions of adults in Britain risk “dying intestate” because they have failed to draft or update their Will.

But what is “intestacy” and what does it mean for the partners, relatives and friends of the deceased?

In this blog, we are going to explore what happens when someone dies intestate – and how it can be avoided.

What is intestacy?

When someone dies without a valid Will in place, their property and possessions are distributed by a strict set of rules – known as the laws of intestacy.

What are the rules for partners?

Under the rules of intestacy, only legally married spouses or civil partners can inherit anything from the deceased person’s estate.

If you were not legally married or in a civil partnership at the time of your partner’s death, you will not be automatically entitled to inherit anything.

The same goes for cohabiting or “common law” partners. Contrary to popular opinion, partners who live together do not share the same rights and protections as those in a marriage or in a civil partnership.

You can, however, inherit under the rules of intestacy if you are informally separated (but not legally divorced) from your partner. This means an ex-spouse could inherit all of the deceased person’s estate, even if the deceased was living alone or with a new partner.

Can children inherit under the laws of intestacy?

Yes, but only if the estate meets the inheritance threshold or if the deceased leaves no surviving spouse or civil partner.

If you have surviving children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren and your estate is valued at more than £270,000, the rules are as follows:

  • Your legal spouse or civil partner will inherit all the personal property and belongings of the person who has died, and
  • the first £270,000 of the estate, and
  • half of the remaining estate.
  • The remaining portion of the estate will then be distributed equally between surviving children. A grandchild or great-grandchild can only inherit if their parent or grandparent has died before the intestate person.

If there is no surviving partner, the children of the person who has died intestate can inherit the whole estate.

What happens to jointly-owned property on death?

This depends on how the property was bought. If you and your partner are beneficial joint tenants, the surviving partner will automatically inherit the other partner’s share of the property.

However, if you and your partner are tenants in common, the portion of the property owned by the deceased will be passed down under the rules of intestacy.

What are the rules for friends?

Friends, carers and even those in a cohabiting relationship are not entitled to inherit anything under the laws of intestacy. Only blood relatives and legal partners can inherit when someone dies without leaving a Will.

How can intestacy be avoided?

The only way to ensure that your estate is passed down exactly as prescribed is by drafting a watertight Will. A Will can be written quickly and affordably, so there is no need to hesitate.

For more help and advice on related matters, please get in touch with our Solicitor in the Private Client, Wills and Probate Team, Adam Hogg on +44 (0) 20 7240 0521 or at adam.hogg@mackrell.com.

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Adam Hogg
Adam is a solicitor based in the Private Client Team, who is experienced in acting for multi-jurisdictional high-net-worth individuals and families, who he advises on a broad spectrum of private wealth matters.