Who inherits if there isn’t a will?

It’s always advisable to have a will – it’s the only way to ensure that your estate is distributed 100% in accordance with your wishes.

If you or a loved one were to die without a will, known as dying intestate, there are rules dictating who inherits the estate. The rules of intestacy also apply if a will isn’t legally valid.

When dealing with the estate of someone who dies intestate, the closest living relative would still need to apply for probate to become the estate administrator.

Learn more about probate or applying for probate if there isn’t a will.

If you need help applying for probate, LawPlus Solicitors can help. Contact us here to get started.

The rest of this guide will examine who can inherit if there isn’t a will. If you’re dealing with the estate of someone who died intestate and aren’t sure how to distribute the estate, you should seek legal advice.

Spouses and civil partners

Spouses and civil partners are the first in line to inherit under the rules of intestacy. The person who inherits must have been married or in a civil partnership with the deceased when they died. As such, divorced people can’t inherit via the rules of intestacy. But they could have if, for example, their ex-spouse had left them something in a will.

Spouses and civil partners who are separated can still inherit, but partners who aren’t married or not in a civil partnership cannot.

These scenarios all highlight the value of ensuring you have a valid will to ensure your estate is distributed in accordance with your wishes.

What spouses and civil partners inherit depends on the estate’s value and if there are other surviving relatives.

If the deceased has surviving children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, and the estate is worth more than £270,000, their spouse or civil partner inherits:

  • All of the deceased’s personal property and belongings
  • The first £270,000 of the estate
  • Half of the remaining estate

For example, if your spouse or civil partner died without a will and left an estate worth £300,000, and you have a child, you would inherit £285,000 – the first £270,000 and half the remaining £30,000.

If you were in the same situation but didn’t have children, you would inherit everything.

Intestacy and jointly-owned property

If a person dies intestate, a spouse or civil partner automatically inherits jointly-owned assets, like property or the cash in a joint bank account. Crucially, you don’t need to count property and money as part of the estate when valuing it for probate and dividing per the rules of intestacy.

If you’re married, but your deceased spouse or civil partner owned property in their name only, you don’t automatically inherit it. In this case, you would count the property as part of the estate when valuing it for probate and dividing per the rules of intestacy.

For example, say your spouse or civil partner dies without a will, leaving a house you jointly own worth £300,000 and an investment portfolio worth £100,000, and you have a child. In this case, the estate is worth £100,000. Therefore, you would automatically inherit the house and the entire investment portfolio due to its value being less than £270,000.

However, were your spouse or civil partner to own the property in their name only, the estate would be worth £400,000. So in this scenario, you would inherit £335,000 – the first £270,000 and half the remaining £130,000.

In some scenarios, the rules of intestacy may mean you need to sell a property so that each inheritor gets what they’re entitled to.

Other close relatives

Children

What children inherit when someone dies intestate depends on if there is a surviving spouse or civil partner and on the value of the estate.

  • If there isn’t a surviving spouse or civil partner, the children of someone who dies intestate inherit everything, divided equally between them.
  • If there is a surviving spouse or civil partner, children only inherit via the rules of intestacy if the estate is worth more than £270,000. In such a scenario, the children would equally inherit half of the estate’s value exceeding the £270,000 threshold.

For example, if your unmarried parent dies intestate with an estate worth £300,000, you and any siblings would inherit everything.

In contrast, if your parent were married and died interstate with an estate worth £300,000, you and any siblings would inherit an equal share of £15,000. This is because the married partner would inherit the first £270,000, plus half the remaining £30,000.

Adopted stepchildren can inherit under intestacy rules, but stepchildren cannot.

Children under 18 would only receive their share of any inheritance when they turn 18 or enter into a marriage or a civil partnership before turning 18.

Where someone dies intestate, and there are children under 18 who will inherit, the estate’s administrator should arrange for trustees to manage the inheritance until the children can legally inherit.

Grandchildren and great-grandchildren

Grandchildren and great-grandchildren wouldn’t inherit per the rules of intestacy unless either:

  • Their parent or grandparent died before the person who has died intestate.
  • Their parent is alive when their grandparent dies intestate but dies before turning 18 without entering into a marriage or civil partnership.

If a child of the person who has died intestate died before them, their children would inherit in their place.

For example, say your unmarried parent dies intestate, and your sibling died two years ago, leaving an only child. In this case, you and your deceased sibling’s child would inherit equal shares in the estate.

Other close relatives

Other close relatives, including parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews, can also inherit under the rules of intestacy, but this depends on:

  • If there is a surviving spouse or civil partner
  • If there are surviving children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren
  • If you’re a niece or nephew, whether your parent who was directly related to the person who has died interstate is also dead
  • The value of the estate

If there are still no surviving relatives, grandparents, uncles and aunts, half-uncles and half-aunts can also inherit. Cousins and half-cousins can also inherit if the uncles, aunts, half-uncles or half-aunts who would have inherited have already died.

Who cannot inherit under the rules of intestacy?

The below people have no inheritance rights under the rules of intestacy. However, depending on their circumstances, these people might still be able to apply to a court to receive financial provision from the estate:

  • Unmarried or cohabiting partners
  • Same-sex partners not in a civil partnership
  • People who are related to the deceased through marriage
  • Close friends
  • Carers

Who inherits if there are no surviving relatives?

In these situations, the estate passes to the Crown and becomes the responsibility of the Treasury Solicitor. All such estates are listed at GOV.UK, where anyone who believes they have a right to inherit can claim currently unclaimed estates.

Do you have to follow the rules of intestacy?

Not necessarily. You can rearrange the way an estate is divided if:

  • Everyone who would inherit under the rules of intestacy agrees to it
  • You make a deed of family arrangement or variation within two years of the date of death

If everyone who would inherit under the rules of intestacy agrees, then you can share out the estate to people who ordinarily wouldn’t inherit or change the shares of an estate that people inherit.

What if someone who is entitled to inherit rejects their inheritance?

There are specific rules detailing who can inherit if inheritors reject their inheritance. If you want to reject an inheritance, are dealing with an estate that involves someone who wants to reject their inheritance, or are inheriting from such an estate yourself, you should take legal advice.

Need help with probate or administering an estate? Get in touch!

Remember that the only way to guarantee your estate is distributed 100% in accordance with your wishes is to write a legally valid will.

If you need help with wills, applying for probate, setting up a trust for children who will inherit, or any other aspect of estate planning, we can help.

Contact us here to get started.


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