Dying Without a Will: How Intestacy May Affect You
If someone dies without a Will or if their Will is not valid, they will die ‘intestate’. The rules of intestacy apply to assets, Investments, and personal belongings a person leaves behind – otherwise known as their Estate.
What relatives or beneficiaries inherit is affected by the intestacy rules and distributed according to a fixed order of priority.
- If someone makes a Will and it isn’t valid, the rules of intestacy will apply, not those wishes expressed in the Will
- Only married or civil partners and other close relatives can inherit
- Co-habitees and partners have no entitlement under the rules but registered Civil Partners have the same entitlement as spouses
- If there are beneficiaries who are under 18, their share is held in a statutory trust until the child reached 18
- The intestacy rules also stipulate who is entitled to apply for the Grant of Letters of Administration and who can become the Legal Personal Representatives for the deceased
- The flowchart below shows how the deceased’s Estate passes to family members
- If there aren’t any living relatives, the Estate goes to the Crown
General Rules of Inheritance
Order of Priority
- Spouse or civil partner (in whole or in part)
- Children or their descendants
- Brothers or sisters or their descendants
- Half siblings or their descendants
- Uncles and or aunts or their descendants
- Half uncles and or aunts or their descendants
- The whole Estate passes to the Crown if there aren’t any living relatives outlined above
Dying Without a Will
If you’re married or in a registered civil partnership, follow the pathway shown in our flowchart below.
Dale & Jo – Co-habitees
Childhood sweethearts, Dale and his fiancée Jo happily live together and have a five-year-old daughter, Rosy. As the primary breadwinner, their house is in Dale’s sole name, along with some savings and investments.
Unexpectedly, Dale dies having never made a Will. He believed his long-term partner and fiancée; Jo would automatically inherit and had not thought it necessary to make a Will. However, under the intestacy rules, Rosy inherits the whole of her father’s Estate. The money is held in a statutory trust as she is under 18. Dale’s bank account is frozen, and Jo is not entitled to inherit any part of Dale’s Estate.
In reality, Jo’s best option is to pursue a claim under the Inheritance Act 1975 as a dependant who has no inheritance or income. Naturally, this is a complicated and costly process, as Rosy can’t make any decisions about the claim without a court order on her behalf. Had Dale made a Will, setting out his wishes to make provision for Jo and Rosy clearly, the situation immediately following his untimely death would have been entirely different.
Jenny & James – Second Marriage
Jenny and James are in their late 60s and have been married for ten years. They jointly own a successful café. Jenny owns the house they live in together. Married before, Jenny has two adult children, Natalie and Keith. Neither child approve of Jenny’s remarriage, and they do not have a good relationship with Keith.
Jenny dies suddenly without leaving a valid Will. Under the intestacy rules, James receives Jenny’s personal chattels, a legacy of £270,000 and half of the remainder of the Estate. Natalie and Keith receive the other half of the rest of Jenny’s Estate.
This distribution, dictated by the intestacy rules, did not bode well. James either has to accept that Natalie and Keith own part of the business, or he may need to move out of the house he had shared with Jenny so that her children can receive their inheritance (if they choose to pursue this).
Ultimately, James decides to pursue a claim under the Inheritance Act 1975, arguing that he had not received adequate provision under the intestacy rules. Once again, the absence of a valid Will causes significant stress and unnecessary cost.
Katherine & Robert – Child from a previous relationship
Katherine is aged 56 and is in a civil partnership with Robert. Robert has a 10-year-old daughter, Ruth, from a previous relationship. Katherine has treated as her own child for the last eight years since Ruth’s mother died.
Katherine’s only remaining relative is Aunty Edna, aged 83, in Australia. Robert dies suddenly and Katherine two months later, neither having made a Will. At the time of Robert’s death, his Estate passes directly to Katherine as the value is under £270,000. When Katherine dies, she leaves an estate worth £450,000, which includes her inheritance from Robert and the house. It was common knowledge within the family circle that Katherine wanted Ruth to receive her Estate. However, under the intestacy rules, she is not entitled.
Ruth is also left without a legal guardian to look after her wellbeing and no one to make a claim on Katherine’s Estate on her behalf. Aunty Edna inherits the lot.
Ultimately, a claim for provision is pursued under the Inheritance Act 1975. However, this is a very long, drawn-out procedure, costing tens of thousands of pounds as Aunty Edna doesn’t want to admit the claim.
Ruth is left without financial and emotional support for a long time, relying on someone appointed by the court to look after her welfare and finances in making a claim. Had Katherine and Robert made their Wills, Ruth would avoid unnecessary cost and considerable anxiety.
The Cost of Dying Intestate
The intestacy rules, updated in October 2014, are still based on a traditional view of family life. If you aren’t married or in a formal civil partnership, you are not entitled to any inheritance. The notion of common-law wife or husband is a misnomer, even if you have lived together for many years. Equally, stepchildren or foster children who are not legally adopted, can’t inherit.
Dying intestate (without a Will) can cause unnecessary distress and in some cases, severe financial hardship. So, if you don’t want the rules to apply in your case, you must make a Will and keep it up to date if your circumstances change.
Making a Will Ensures
The best way to avoid issues with intestacy is to make sure you have a valid, watertight Will in place before you die. Make sure you consider all your assets so that no portion of your Estate will be intestate.
It may seem like a rather morbid task but having a Will in place gives you peace of mind. Your Executor(s) will carry out your wishes, and your family will suffer less stress.
Please note that all views, comments or opinions expressed are for information only and do not constitute and should not be interpreted as being comprehensive or as giving legal advice. No one should seek to rely or act upon, or refrain from acting upon, the views, comments or opinions expressed herein without first obtaining specialist, professional or independent advice. While every effort has been made to ensure accuracy, Curtis Parkinson cannot be held liable for any errors, omissions or inaccuracies.