The intestacy rules set out how the estate will be distributed if a person dies without making a will. Passing away without first making a legal will is known as ‘dying intestate’.
Essentially, when someone dies intestate, their nearest and dearest cannot control who gets what. Only close relatives can inherit, and common law partners who had not entered into a marriage or civil partnership with the deceased get nothing.
The main rules regarding how estates are distributed are as follows:
If there is a surviving spouse or civil partner, and no surviving children, grandchildren or great grandchildren – the spouse/partner gets everything.
If there is a surviving spouse or civil partner, and there are also surviving children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren – the spouse/civil partner gets the first £250,000 plus half of any residue. Any property that was owned by the deceased and their spouse/civil partner on a joint tenancy basis also passes to the surviving spouse/partner. The remainder passes to the children in equal shares, but if all children have died, then it passes to the grandchildren in equal shares, and if they have all died, to the great grandchildren.
If there is no surviving spouse or civil partner but there are children/ grandchildren/ great-grandchildren – in these circumstances any children inherit the entire estate in equal shares. If there are no surviving children then it passes to the grandchildren in equal shares, and if they have all died, to the great grandchildren.
If there is no surviving spouse or civil partner and there are no children/ grandchildren/ great-grandchildren – in order of priority parents, siblings and nieces and nephews are next to be considered as inheritors. If there are none of these still alive, then the order of priority for inheriting continues as follows: grandparents; uncles and aunts; and half-uncles and half-aunts. If an uncle or aunt would have inherited had they not died first, then their children (i.e. the cousins of the deceased) can inherit.
If there are none of these relatives still alive – if the deceased has none of the relatives mentioned above alive at the time of death, then there is still no provision for the estate to pass to more distant relatives, unmarried partners, close friends etc. Instead then the estate passes to the Crown.
(Note that under 18s cannot receive their inheritance until their 18th birthday. Until this time anything due to them must be managed on their behalf by named trustees).