What happens if you die intestate in the UK?

If you want to guarantee that your estate (which includes your properties, money and all other personal assets) is inherited by the right people, in line with your final wishes, writing a will is essential.

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Why is making a will important?

Because if, for whatever reason, you should die without a will – also known as dying intestate – the strict rules of intestacy will be implemented and your personal preferences will not be taken into consideration. But what are the rules of intestacy and how is an estate distributed if someone dies without a will? 

Our guide explains it all, from the inheritance rights of your children to the management of joint bank accounts after death.

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What are the intestacy rules?

The rules of intestacy are strict rules that must be adhered to if someone dies without a will – or at least a legally valid one. The rules determine how the estate of the person who died should be distributed amongst family members, with the preferences or wishes of the deceased not having any bearing on the final decision, whether they are known or not.

The intestacy rules can often lead to disputes under more complex circumstances, such as cases that involve step-children and unmarried partners, which is why many people choose to write a will, but some may not get the chance to do so before it’s too late.

Under these inheritance rules, the married or civil partner of the deceased is usually entitled to the majority (if not all) of the estate, but there are several factors that come into play, including the value of the estate and whether the individual had any children.

Generally, the spouse is first in-line to the estate, followed by children, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, grandparents, and then aunties and uncles. If the deceased has no surviving relatives, his or her entire estate will then be handed over to the Crown, and their friends or a chosen charity will receive nothing.

What happens when a spouse dies without a will?

Married or civil partners are always eligible for inheritance through the rules of intestacy, but it’s important to keep in mind that those who are divorced or unmarried do not qualify. So, if you have an unmarried partner that you would like to leave something to when you die, making a will is the only way to guarantee that your requests will be granted.

If you are an unmarried partner of someone who has died intestate and you believe you should be entitled to some inheritance, be sure to contact a solicitor and seek legal advice as soon as possible. 

Intestacy rules mean that: 

  • If someone dies without any surviving children, the married or civil partner will automatically inherit the entire estate.
  • If someone who has children or grandchildren dies and their estate is valued at over £270,000, the spouse or civil partner would be entitled to all personal possessions, the first £270,000 of the estate, and half of the amount that remains (for example, £15,000 if the estate is worth £300,000). 
  • If someone dies and the estate is worth less than £270,000, the surviving partner is eligible to inherit it all, regardless of whether there are surviving children or not. 

Generally speaking, the married or civil partner will inherit the entire estate of the deceased if there are no surviving children, or if the estate is valued at under £270,000.

Bear in mind that the value of the inheritance that the surviving civil or married partner receives does not count towards the total value of the estate when being considered for intestacy rules.

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Jointly owned property and death: Intestacy rules

Marrying or forming a civil partnership with someone means that you intend on spending the rest of your life with that person, so you will inevitably share assets such as properties and savings accounts.

But when one member of a couple passes away, is the surviving partner automatically entitled to inherit the value of the joint assets or will they lose out financially? In most cases, you will be able to inherit the contents of your partner’s share of the joint property if they were to die intestate, but it can depend on the type of asset and the agreement that was in place. Although it’s rare, some cases can get complex and you may want to contact a solicitor for professional legal advice.

Shared homeownership and dying without a will

There are two main types of shared homeownership: tenancies in common and beneficial joint tenancies. 

If you and a partner were tenants in common and they died intestate, you would not automatically receive their share of the property. 

On the other hand, if you were beneficial joint tenants, you would be automatically entitled to inherit their share of the property. 

Those who were tenants in common may require the assistance of a solicitor if they wish to inherit their partner’s share of the home. 

What happens to joint bank accounts on the death of one member?

If one member of a joint bank account dies, the surviving member is usually entitled to inherit their share of it.

A child’s rights when a parent dies intestate

So, what are the inheritance rights of children in the UK? When intestacy rules are implemented, how much the children of the deceased inherit depends on whether or not there is a surviving partner, as well as the value of the estate.

If there is no surviving civil or married partner, their children will inherit the entire amount equally between them. But if there is a surviving partner, the children will only receive some of it, as long as it’s valued at over a certain amount. 

Note: Children will not receive any of the inheritance that they’re entitled to until they either reach 18-years-old, or they are married or form a civil partnership. Until then, a trustee will manage the estate on their behalf. 

Inheritance rights of children if there is a surviving partner

If there’s a surviving civil or married partner, the children of the deceased will only be eligible to inherit any of the estate if it is valued at over £270,000. If it is valued below the threshold, the entire estate will go to the surviving partner.

In instances where it is valued over £270,000 and there’s a surviving partner, the children can inherit half of the value of the estate above the £270,000 threshold. For example, if the estate is valued at £400,000, the children will able to inherit £65,000 between them (half of the amount it is valued over the threshold, which is £130,000 in this case).

What if there is no surviving partner?

If someone dies intestate and there is no surviving partner, the children of the deceased will be entitled to the entire estate (regardless of its worth) and all personal possessions, which must be shared equally. 

Young children will require a trustee to manage the estate on their behalf until they reach 18 years of age or form a married or civil partnership.

Note: Step-children are not eligible for inheritance under intestacy rules, but children from previous relationships and adopted children are.

Who is not eligible for the estate?

Intestacy rules mean that the following individuals do not qualify for inheritance in the UK: 

  • Same-sex partners that have not formed a civil partnership
  • Unmarried partners 
  • Step-children
  • Friends 
  • In-laws 

If you would like any of the above to inherit any part of your estate when you die, you must write a will before it’s too late. If you don’t, intestacy rules will be enforced, your wishes will not be taken into consideration and they will likely receive nothing.

What happens to your estate if you have no relatives and die intestate?

If you die without a will and do not have any relatives that are eligible under the rules of intestacy, the most likely outcome is that the entire estate will be handed over to the Crown, as it is essentially considered ownerless property, or Bona Vacantia.

Anyone who feels that they deserve to inherit some of the deceased person’s estate can send a request to the Crown for a grant, but they must be made with good reason in order to be accepted. 

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Write your will today

The only way to avoid the rules of intestacy and make sure that your estate is distributed in line with your preferences is to write a will.

To start the process here at Wills.Services, you simply need to complete a short registration, which asks for basic information such as your name, email address and phone number.

You then use our easy to use online tool to submit all relevant information securely, which our team of professionals will process. Once the will is checked and complete, we will send you it by post, so that for you to witness, sign and return for storage. 

Leave more than just memories for your loved ones and take total control of your assets, write a will with Wills.Services today.