What happens to the estate when someone dies without leaving a Will?
If someone dies without leaving a valid Will, they become what is known as ‘intestate’. Any wishes about who should benefit from their estate will not be taken account, as the statutory Rules of Intestacy must be followed to distribute their assets.
The rules that apply in England and Wales can be found in the Administration of Estates Act 1925 (as amended by the Inheritance and Trustee Powers Act 2014). There is a strict order of those who should benefit from an intestate persons estate:
- A surviving spouse or civil partner
- Children or grandchildren
- Uncles and aunts
The relative who is highest up this list will take priority. In situations where the deceased is survived by a spouse or civil partner and there are no children, they will inherit the entire estate.
If the deceased did have children, then they (or the grandchildren if they have already died), will benefit if the estate is worth more than £250,000. In these circumstances the spouse or civil partner will receive £250,000 and the deceased’s personal belongings. They will also inherit half of the remaining estate, with the other half divided between the deceased’s children in equal shares. If they are under 18, this will be held on trust for them until they are 18.
If there is no surviving spouse or civil partner, then the estate will pass to the deceased’s children or grandchildren in equal shares.
If no surviving spouse, civil partner or descendants, the entire estate will pass to the next existing relative (or group of relatives of that category in equal shares) according to the order of the list in the Intestacy Rules.
It is important to note that no other people, such as unmarried partners, former spouses or civil partners, common law spouses, stepchildren or step parents, or friends are included in the Rules of Intestacy. This means that they will not be able to inherit from the deceased’s estate if there is no valid Will, unless they are able to make a claim for financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.