Who Will Inherit From My Estate if I Die Without a Will?

News Posted: January 23, 2024

Unfortunately, half of adults in the UK do not have a valid will, including 33% of adults aged over 55. This means that, should the worst happen, they will pass away intestate.

When someone dies without a will there are strict inheritance laws, often referred to as the Rules of Intestacy, which apply in England and Wales. These rules state exactly who inherits under intestacy in order of priority. It starts with the closest family members, then distant family, and finally the Crown.

When a person dies without a will but leaves a spouse/civil partner and children, the spouse/civil partner will receive the Statutory Legacy sum of £322,000 (an increase from £270,000 as of 26th July 2023) plus all personal possessions and half of the remainder, the other half of which is shared equally between their children.

Spouses or civil partners will only inherit under the Rules of Intestacy if they are married or in a civil partnership at the date of death. So, if you are divorced or if the civil partnership has legally ended, they will not inherit. If the total value of the estate is under £322,000, the spouse/civil partner is entitled to everything.

Where a person dies without a will but leaves a spouse/civil partner and no children, the spouse/civil partner will receive the whole of the estate. Where a person dies without a will and leaves no spouse/civil partner, but does leave children, the estate will be shared equally between the children. Children will not receive their inheritance immediately if they are minors – they will receive it when they reach the age of 18.

What about unmarried/unregistered partners?

The Rules of Intestacy do not accommodate modern family relationships. For example, they do not make any provision for unmarried or unregistered partners. Therefore, cohabiting partners cannot inherit under the Rules of Intestacy. The Rules also do not make any provision for stepchildren – only natural and adopted children are recognised for the purpose of inheritance. Stepchildren will receive nothing if there isn’t a will providing for them, regardless of your relationship or how long you have cared for them (unless you have legally adopted them).

Therefore, it is essential for cohabiting couples to create a will, as there is no automatic right to inherit anything from each other. If you have been cohabiting for at least 2 years, then you have the right to make an application in court for a provision out of the estate of the deceased partner, however, this is often complex and can be a very expensive process.

Where a person dies without a will and leaves no spouse/civil partner or children, the estate will then pass as follows (and if more than one, in equal shares):

  • To living parents
  • To living brothers or sisters
  • To living half brothers or half sisters
  • To living grandparents
  • To living aunts and uncles
  • To living half aunts and half uncles
  • To the Crown

If a relative entitled to inherit has passed away, their children may be entitled to inherit on their behalf. For example, a niece/nephew would inherit if a sibling has already passed away or a cousin may inherit if the aunt/uncle had pre-deceased.

Having a valid will in place is the best way to protect your estate and will allow you to have control over who inherits from it (subject to assets and property held jointly, which pass to the survivor automatically). The Rules of Intestacy also do not allow for any other bequests to friends, in-law relatives, or charities.

With changing family dynamics and the rise in blended and cohabiting families, creating a will is now even more important than ever to ensure your estate will be distributed in accordance with your wishes. It also means that you get to appoint executors (people who carry out the wishes contained in your Will) that you trust and are capable of administering your estate. If there is no chosen executor under a will, this responsibility is otherwise left to the appointed ‘administrator’. The order is reflective of who would be entitled to the estate.

If you know who you would like to inherit from your estate but do not yet have a will in place, you can speak with our Wills and Probate specialists on 01743 248545, or send an email to mail@hatchers.co.uk.

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