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Amy Fowlston considers the implications...
The law of intestacy, which is often referred to as the intestacy rules, is based on who you leave behind and what assets you have when you die.
The rules of intestacy do not consider moral obligations or preference of some relatives over others, nor do they consider friendships or ties to charity; there is a strict order as to who can inherit your estate when you do not leave a will which is heavily based on your bloodline.
With the modern family dynamic evolving quickly and the law taking time to catch up, it is important to consider your family circumstances and to understand what will happen to your money and property when you die.
Does my spouse or civil partner inherit everything?
Quite possibly. Since a change in the law from 1stOctober 2014, deaths leaving a surviving spouse or civil partner and no children, and provided the spouse or civil partner survived by 28 days, then the law states that they will inherit the entire estate.
If you there is a spouse and children under 18, then your spouse will inherit your personal belongings, a fixed sum of £250,000 and half of the remaining estate; the other half is held in statutory trusts for your children.
The term ‘statutory trust’ is very important when applying the intestacy rules. In the first instance, if one of your children dies before you, their share will pass to your surviving children. For example, if you had three children but only two survived you, your surviving children would each inherit 50% of your estate. However, if one of your children died leaving children of their own (i.e. your grandchildren), the statutory trust ensures that the share intended for your late child would pass to their children in equal shares, provided that they turn 18 or were to marry before then.
Statutory trusts apply to most classes of family member in the intestacy rules, but not to spouses, parents or grandparents.
My partner and I are not married or in a civil partnership, will I inherit their estate if they die before me?
No, not unless your partner makes a will. The intestacy rules do not consider cohabitees at all.
What if I have no spouse or civil partner but I have children?
Your estate is then held in statutory trusts for your children equally until they reach the age of 18 or marry before they turn 18.
I have children and stepchildren; will they each get an equal share?
No. The intestacy rules do not include children outside the blood line.
I have no spouse, civil partner or children. Who inherits my estate when I die?
The first in line would be your parents, they would each receive 50% of your estate. This can be challenging for those who do not know either or both their parents. Step-parents are not included in the intestacy rules and would not inherit your estate. If one of your parents pre-deceased you, your surviving parent would inherit your estate entirely.
If you survived your parents, your estate would pass to your siblings in statutory trusts. If your sibling pre-deceased you leaving children, their intended share would pass to their children (i.e. your nieces/nephews) provided they reached 18. However, your estate would only pass to your siblings who have the same parents as you (full blood siblings). Half-siblings (who share only a mother or a father) would not be included in this class and would only inherit should your full blood siblings and their children pre-decease you.
If you only have half-blood siblings, they will inherit your estate equally in statutory trusts.
I have no immediate family, where will my estate go when I die?
Dying without a will and no immediate family can lead to a difficult, time consuming, and costly search for beneficiaries. If you have no spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, siblings or grandparents, your estate is distributed amongst your full-blood aunts and uncles on statutory trusts. This means brothers and sisters of your mother and father in equal shares, not 50% to mum’s side of the family and 50% to dad’s.
Aunts and uncles who got their title by marrying your aunt or uncle do not inherit from your estate. Similarly to brothers and sisters, half-blood aunts and uncles would not fall under this category either.
I have no family, I have no will, what happens to my estate when I die?
If you have no family, your estate will pass to the Crown.
As well as the difficulties in finding family members, there is the added complication when dying intestate of “the right person in line” being the only one entitled to administer your estate. An Executor in a will is legally authorised to begin administering your estate because their power is derived from the will itself. If you die intestate, power to administer the estate is only authorised by the court.
If you have any queries about your personal family circumstances, please contact one of our private client solicitors on 0114 249 59 69, we can often provide a free 30 minute consultation to help to clarify your situation.