Laws of Intestacy
The rules or laws of intestacy govern what happens to someone’s estate in the event that they do not leave a valid Will. Close family members receive certain specified shares of the deceased’s assets. This means that other people who may have been important to the deceased, such as a live-in partner or step-children, will not automatically receive anything.
Who inherits under the Laws of Intestacy
The rules of intestacy state that if someone who is married or in a civil partnership dies without leaving any children, their spouse or civil partner will inherit their entire estate.
If the deceased is married and also leaves children, then their spouse or civil partner will receive the first £270,000 of estate funds, all of the deceased’s personal possessions and half of the remaining estate. The children will share the remaining half of the estate once they reach the age of 18.
This can mean that an estate is not shared in the way that someone would wish. For example, if someone has remarried, then died leaving a net estate of £370,000, their spouse would receive the first £270,000 plus half of the remaining £100,000, ie. another £50,000, giving them a total of £320,000.
If the deceased had two children from their first marriage, the children would share half of the remaining £100,000 each, ie. £50,000. When the surviving spouse dies, they can leave the money to whoever they choose, with no obligation to include their late spouse’s children.
When someone dies leaving neither children nor a spouse, then other relatives will inherit the estate in the following order:
If family members are in agreement, then a Deed of Variation can be entered into splitting the estate in different proportions, but it is important to take legal advice before signing this as it can be a waiver of your rights.
Inheriting a jointly-owned property
If the deceased owned a home jointly with someone else, then whether or not their share of the property forms part of their estate will depend on the type of shared ownership they have.
Where a property is owned as joint tenants, then on the death of one, the property automatically becomes owned solely by the other joint tenant and does not form part of the estate.
However if the property is owned as tenants in common, then the share owned by the deceased will form part of their estate. This could cause considerable difficulty for an unmarried partner who was living with the deceased and may then face having to leave the home so that it can be sold.
Who does not inherit under the Laws of Intestacy
Unmarried partners have no right to inherit under the rules of intestacy. This includes gay or lesbian partners unless they were in a civil partnership with the deceased.
Relations by marriage are not included. This means that step-children will not automatically inherit unless they have been adopted by the deceased. This extends to other relatives by marriage.
Carers and close friends are also excluded.
However even if someone does not inherit under the rules of intestacy, they may have a legitimate claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. This allows someone who was maintained by the deceased or who was treated as a child by them to make a claim on the estate.
At Just Wills & Legal Services we’re specialists in helping people prepare their estate as they wish.
We offer a range of options to enable you to write your Will online, or in person or via video with one of our team of expert consultants. If you would like to speak to one of our team about drawing up a Will contact us today.
Avoiding the Laws of Intestacy
There are many drawbacks to the rules of intestacy. As well as omitting people and sharing out an estate in a way that the deceased may not have wanted, it can also be inefficient for tax purposes and may give scope for disagreements between family members.
By making a valid Will, this can be avoided. It gives you the opportunity to carefully select who you want to inherit your assets and also to explain to people in advance why you have made the decisions you have.
You can also structure your estate to maximise tax allowances and reduce the amount of any Inheritance Tax that may be payable.
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