“Intestate” means to have died without leaving a legally valid will. When a legal will is left behind after a person dies, it outlines the express wishes of the deceased with regard to the management and beneficiaries of any remaining estate.
In the case where a person dies intestate, by default the beneficiary for the intestate person’s estate is a spouse or civil partner. Where there is no living married or civil partner, the estate becomes the inheritance of any surviving children and is divided equally amongst them. When there are no children to inherit, the rules of intestacy define the beneficiary of the estate to relatives in the following order:
Grandchildren and great-grandchildren
Nieces and nephews (depending on whether the parent was directly related to the intestate person)
Uncles and aunts
Half-uncles and half-aunts (being the half brother or half sister to the intestate person’s mother or father)
Non-family members cannot inherit estate from an intestate person and these include:
Unmarried partners (including gay or lesbian partners not in a civil partnership with the deceased)
Friends and carers
Relations by marriage
However, such individuals may seek legal advice from a solicitor and apply to the court for a financial provision from the estate.
If surviving family members wish to change the allocation of the estate, then all beneficiaries must agree to the change before making a deed of family arrangement or variation. In this manner, people who would not meet the rules of intestacy may be granted part of the estate without applying to the court.
When there are no surviving relatives of the intestate person, the estate is passed to the Crown as “bona vacantia”, meaning “ownerless goods” in Latin. When the Crown receives an estate, it is the Treasury Solicitor who is responsible for dealing with it.