Intestacy rules – who inherits without a will?

Intestacy rules set out how a person’s estate is divided in the absence of a will. They rules follow a specific order and only include married or civil partners and blood relatives as beneficiaries. This means that without a will, according to the rules of intestacy unmarried partners inherit nothing.

What happens if you die without a will in the UK?

Dying without a will in the UK means that the law decides who inherits what, according to the intestacy rules. This can leave people in an extremely vulnerable position; especially given the complex lives we live these days.

For example, without a will:

  • Unmarried couples can’t inherit from each other
  • Children from former marriages may not be provided for if you have remarried
  • Provision may not be made for children if both parents die
  • Married couples may not inherit the whole estate

Basically the order of these old and antiquated rules only allows for married or civil partners and some close relatives to inherit, which is why making a will is so important.  

What is intestacy?

Intestacy is the term used to describe the situation when someone dies without a will; they are said to have died intestate. In this instance rather than referring to a will to distribute the estate, the deceased’s money possessions and property are divided according to the rules of intestacy.

 What are the intestacy rules?

The intestacy rules vary depending on where you live in the UK however for England and Wales the following applies:

  • Married couples or those in a civil partnership with no children inherit the entire estate
  • Married couples or those in a civil partnership with children inherit the first £250,000 of the estate. Anything beyond this is divided between your spouse (50%) and your children (50% held in trust if they are under 18).
  • Unmarried couples with no children inherit nothing. Instead the estate goes to the deceased’s parents or closest blood relative.
  • Unmarried couples with children inherit nothing. Instead the estate is passed on to the child or children

Who can't inherit under the rules of intestacy?

The people who can’t inherit under the rules of intestacy are as follows:

  • Unmarried partners
  • Relatives by marriage
  • Friends
  • Carers

 Can you challenge intestacy rules?

You cannot challenge intestacy rules in the same way you can contest a will. You can however make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act within 6 months of probate, if you believe the deceased would have wanted you to inherit.

Examples of people who may want to claim under the inheritance act are:

  • Unmarried partners
  • Stepchildren who have not been legally adopted
  • Someone who was dependent on the deceased

If the beneficiaries entitled to inherit under the rules of intestacy are happy to distribute the estate in a different way, they can apply for a deed of variation. The deed must be prepared within 2 years of the death and signed by all beneficiaries affected.

Frequently asked questions

  • Who inherits property if there is no will?
    • If there is no will and no surviving relatives, the crown inherits the deceased’s estate. This is known as bona vacantia or ownerless property.

  • Who inherits if there are no relatives?
    • A deed of variation is legally binding if it is signed by all the beneficiaries affected and the executor if there is any change to the estates tax liability.

  • How is next of kin determined?
    • Next of kin is defined as your spouse, civil partner or closest blood relative or relatives. This includes direct descendants, parents and siblings.

  • Does a surviving spouse inherit everything?
    • If a married person dies without a will, their spouse or civil partner will inherit the entire estate if there are no children. If there are children, the spouse will inherit the first £250,00. Anything above this will be divided between the spouse and children.

what happens if you die without a will?

Will you be affected by inheritance tax?

Find out more

Do you have a will?

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