The rules surrounding who inherits your estate if there is no Will are called the rules of intestacy. These rules dictate who the rightful heir to the estate is, which depends on whether or not the person was married, had children, or had any close living relatives. The person who has died without a Will is known as an intestate person.
Under the rules of intestacy the only people who can inherit are select close relatives, or married/civil partners. These rules also apply even if a Will has been made but it is not valid, for instance if it is not in writing, or was not made while the person was of sound mind.
Married or civil partners
If you are legally married or in a civil partnership, then your partner will automatically inherit your estate. However, this doesn’t apply if you are divorced, or if the civil partnership has been ended legally. If you are separated informally, then they may still inherit under the rules of intestacy.
It is often assumed that if you cohabit with your partner then they automatically inherit, but this is not the case. If you are not married or in a civil partnership, no matter how long you have been together you won’t be able to inherit under the rules of intestacy.
If the person who died was married or in a civil partnership, the rules on what will be inherited by the partner are slightly different depending on whether or not they had children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren. If they did, and the estate is worth more than £250,000, then the partner will inherit:
The belongings and property belonging to the deceased
The first £250,000 of the estate and half of the remaining value (e.g. if the estate was worth £450,000 then they’d get the £250,000, plus another £100,000 which is half of the remaining £200,000)
If there are no children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren then the partner of the deceased will inherit everything, including the full value of the estate.
Property that is jointly owned
Depending on how you jointly own the house, you may inherit all or some of the property. There are two ways to jointly own a home: either you are beneficial joint tenants or tenants in common.
As beneficial joint tenants, should one of you die then the other will automatically inherit the deceased’s share of the property. If you are tenants in common, the other partner does not automatically inherit it.
For further information visit our conveyancing section.
Couples may hold joint bank accounts or building society accounts. These are automatically inherited by the surviving partner, and are not counted as part of the deceased’s estate due to intestacy rules. This also applies to any property you shared that is automatically inherited.
As mentioned above, if the deceased had a married or civil partner then children will only inherit half the value of the estate above £250,000. If the estate is worth less than this, they won’t inherit at all.
However, if there is no surviving partner then children will inherit the whole estate. Where there are two or more children the estate will be divided between them equally, whether or not the children are from different partners they will all receive a fair share. This also applies to children whose parents were not married, or children who were adopted officially by the deceased.
It is worth bearing in mind that there are some conditions to children inheriting, as they have to be over 18, or married before the age of 18, before they receive their share of the estate. Before they turn 18 the estate will be managed by Trustees.
Typically grandchildren and great-grandchildren do not inherit from the estate, although there are some exceptions to this. If the parents of the grandchild have died before the deceased, or they died before they reach the age of 18 without having married, then the grandchildren shall automatically inherit their parent’s share of the estate.
Who else can inherit?
If the deceased has no children and was not married or in a civil partnership, then there are no other relatives who can inherit. Inheritance will go to the nearest living relative, be that the parents, brothers, sisters or even nieces and nephews of the deceased. Although, nieces and nephews shall only inherit if their own parents are dead (i.e. the brother/sister of the deceased).
If none of these relatives exist, then grandparents, uncles and aunts (or cousins if their parents are dead), or even half-uncles and half-aunts shall inherit if no other close relative exists.
So who cannot inherit under the rules of intestacy?
As mentioned above, unmarried partners cannot inherit. Whether in a hetero or homosexual relationship the rules are the same: you must be married or in a civil partnership to inherit.
Others who will not inherit automatically include those who are related by marriage; carers and close friends.
Although you cannot inherit under the rules of intestacy, you may be able to apply to the courts for financial help, e.g. if you were a couple living together unmarried, although you must have been living together for at least two years. This also applies where you were extremely close to the deceased, for example you were always treated as their own child. In order to apply for this financial help you will need legal help, and here at First4Lawyers our solicitors are on hand 24/7.
Although it’s not nice to think about, sometimes people die without any living relatives. If this is the case then the estate is passed to the Crown. From this the Crown may make grants from the estate to those who apply. However, they do not have to fulfil these requests. If you believe you should receive a grant, our legal team can advise you further. Call 0800 567 7866 or submit an enquiry.
Making a Will allows you to set out who you do, or do not wish to inherit from your estate. It’s better to make this decision while you can, instead of the choices being made for you through rules of intestacy. If you choose to make a Will, our solicitors are here to help. Call 0800 567 7866 or submit an enquiry today.
Note: First4lawyers offers this information as guidance, not advice. Before taking any action, you should seek professional assistance tailored to your personal circumstances and not rely on First4lawyers’ online information alone. *All details and pricing correct at time of last update. First4Lawyers and their partners are not tax advisors and we recommend you seek appropriate independent financial advice before making any decisions that relate to tax and property.