What is intestacy?
When a person dies without leaving a will, they are described as having died intestate, which means that their estate will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy.
What are the rules of intestacy?
In England and Wales, there is a statutory set of rules which are enforced if you die intestate. (The rules are different in Scotland). Your estate would be divided according to this fixed set of rules, irrespective of what your intentions actually were.
Who would receive an inheritance under the rules of intestacy?
The rules will enforce the division of your estate in a fixed order as below:
- Married couples and civil partners. If you die intestate, your spouse or civil partner will only receive a certain amount of your estate. They may also inherit if you have informally separated, but not if you have divorced or legally ended your civil partnership.
- Children. If you die and are survived by children, birth or adopted, the rules of intestacy will divide the estate in one of two ways:
- If you have a surviving spouse or civil partner, part of it will pass to them and the rest will be distributed amongst your children.
- If you have no surviving spouse or civil partner your child or children will receive the whole of your estate.
The rules of intestacy relating to children can be confusing, visit our specialist page to explore this in more detail.
- Grandchildren/great-grandchildren. Your grandchildren and great-grandchildren will only inherit your estate if certain complex criteria are met.
- Other relatives. Under the rules of intestacy relatives such as parents, siblings, uncles and aunties might inherit some of your estate where certain circumstances are met – details of which can be found here.
Put simply, without a legal will in place, your estate may not be distributed in a way would want when you die, and those people you want to look after might be left without any inheritance.
Who would not receive an inheritance?
You may wish to leave some of your estate to people, other than your direct family, who you care about. For example:
- Partners (unmarried).
- Partners (not in civil partnership).
- Relations via marriage.
You may even class these people as your family, but, if you die intestate, they will not inherit any of your estate, no matter what your intentions were. To find out more about how to prevent this you could visit our how to make a will page.
How can an estate be protected?
Ensuring that your estate will not be subject to the rules of intestacy is simple: just make sure you’ve got a legally binding will in place before you die. You can do this at any time in life; in fact the number of young people (especially those with children) preparing wills is on the increase.
Talking to us about your will is easy; just contact us using any of the details below, or, for more information about our wills experts, you could visit our meet the team page.