What are the Intestacy Rules?

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Who gets what when we die without a Will?

The intestacy rules are the laws that define who gets our estate if we die without having left a Will.  Our Will sets out who gets what, and who will be our executors.  So, without leaving a Will, the law needs to define those things.

What is Intestate?

Dying intestate means you have died without a valid Will.  The word valid is significant – because you may have left a Will, but it might be deemed invalid – therefore meaning you are still ‘intestate’.  The point is, a deceased person can be intestate even if they made a Will (ie if that will is not valid for some reason).

Why would a Will not be valid?

A will may be deemed invalid for various reasons including:-

  • Signature – not signed correctly
  • Capacity – the person was not of sound mind when they made the will
  • Duress – the person was put under pressure to make the will, or terms of it
  • Revoked – a will may have been cancelled by action or making a new Will

Who will be my Executors if I die Intestate?

The laws of intestacy state that a person entitled to the estate, will in turn have the right to administer the estate (as an appointed Executor would with a Will).  On intestacy, an Executor (the person who takes Probate) is actually called an Administrator (not Executor).

What is the difference between Administrator & Executor?

An Executor is appointed under a Will.  An Administrator is appointed via the laws of intestacy.  Their roles and responsibilities are essentially the same – and its just a ‘label’.

Is Probate needed on Intestacy?

That depends on what assets are in the estate (as it would if there is a Will).  Probate is needed to ‘deal with assets’ for example to sell a house, close a bank account, and so on.  Probate is the only legally recognised document authorising someone other than the deceased to deal with those assets.  So, the same principles will apply as to whether Probate is needed whether there is a Will or not.  What defines whether Probate is needed is the assets.

Do all assets pass via Intestacy?

No!  As with a Will, if there are joint assets they will generally pass automatically to the surviving joint owner(s) and outside of the terms of a Will or of Intestacy.  Equally, some assets may have been nominated during the deceased’s lifetime (for example death in service benefits).

Who inherits when there is no UK Will?

The laws set out a list of persons who will inherit and in what amounts.  The list is differs depending on whether the deceased was married or not.

Our relatives will inherit if we die intestate.

Does Next of Kin include ‘Common Law Spouse’?

No!  It is a total myth that a common law spouse will inherit everything.  Only married couples and civil partners inherit as a matter of legal right on an intestacy.

Will my Spouse get everything if I die without a Will?

No – not necessarily! If we die without a will (and married/with a civil partner) then the rules of intestacy will result in the following.  The surviving spouse will get:-

  • Personal items – all
  • Statutory Legacy – at present this is the first £270,000
  • Half of the remainder

Any children will take the balance of the half of remainder (and it more than one then in equal shares).  The surviving spouse would also automatically take joint assets too which may impact who gets what.  Significantly, this shows again that it is a myth that even married couples get ‘everything’ – they DO NOT!

Will my Spouse get the house if I die without a Will?

If the house is owned jointly as ‘joint tenants’ then yes, that will pass automatically to the surviving spouse irrespective of any Will or rules of intestacy.  However, there are two types of joint ownership of land in the UK – the other being known as tenants in common.  If you own as tenants in common then the house will NOT pass automatically to the survivor, it will pass via your will or the rules of intestacy.  This highlights the importance of making sure you have a Will – even if you are married (or perhaps even ‘especially’ if you are married.

What if I die intestate and am single?

If we die intestate without a married or civil partner, then the following ‘hierarchy’ inherits:-

  • Children
  • Grandchildren
  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Nieces/nephews
  • Aunts/Uncles (cousins taking in substitute)
  • Half Aunts/Uncles (ditto half cousins)

Can anyone else inherit under Intestacy?

No!  The rules are the rules and that’s that.  Making someone know you would like them to get something when you die is NOT legally binding.

Where does inheritance go if there is no next of kin?

If there are no surviving relatives of any category then your estate passes to the Crown on what is known as Bona Vacantia.

What is Bona Vacantia?

Bona Vacantia means ‘vacant goods’.  The Treasury Solicitor will ‘deal’ with the estate – ie realising assets and so on.

How long do next of Kin have to claim on Intestacy?

As a general rule of thumb relatives have 12 years to claim an estate if they later discover a long lost deceased relative has died intestate.

Expert Intestacy Solicitors

If you have queries arising out of any of the issues raised in this post do please reach out to our expert intestacy solicitors.  We act for people and organisations all over the UK and abroad.  Our digital law firm provides an unparalleled personal service – with distance being no barrier to the advice you need.  So do reach out today – wills@qlaw.co.uk, or call 03300 020 365.

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