While Law Society research in 2014 showed that 64% of British people over the age of 55 do have a will, that still leaves 36% who don’t, so dying without a will is relatively common. When someone dies without leaving a will, they are described as intestate and there is a set of rules about what happens in those circumstances.
The rules of intestacy also apply when someone has left a will but it turns out to be invalid because of factors like not having been properly witnessed. When you write a will, it is advisable to get the advice of a solicitor to avoid such a situation.
When there is no will, the first people to have a claim on the estate are spouses and civil partners, as long as they are actually married or in a formal civil partnership at the time of death. People who are divorced or whose civil partnership has been dissolved do not qualify. However, if you were still married or in a civil partnership but were living apart, you still have a legal right to inherit.
Under the rules of intestacy, spouses and civil partners will automatically inherit the whole estate up to the net value of £250,000. For estates of a value in excess of £250,000, the spouse or civil partner will inherit £250,000 and half of what is left over after the £250,000 is subtracted from the total worth of the estate.
If there are surviving children, grandchildren or great grandchildren they can inherit a share or shares of the estate if there is no spouse or civil partner surviving. They can also inherit a share of half of the residue of the estate after £250,000 has gone to the surviving spouse or civil partner. When there is more than one child, they inherit an equal share of the estate. Adopted children can also inherit as can the children of an unmarried couple when one or both of them die. Children do not receive their inheritance until their 18th birthday, or earlier if they enter into a marriage or civil partnership.
Grandchildren or great grandchildren only inherit if their parents or grandparents have already died before the death of the person who dies intestate. When this is the case, grandchildren or great grandchildren will inherit equal shares of the inheritance their parents or grandparents would have been entitled to. The same rule about being 18 years of age that applies to children applies to grandchildren and great grandchildren.
In the event that there is no surviving spouse or civil partner and no children, grandchildren or great grandchildren that are alive after the death of an intestate person, other relives may inherit. These relatives include parents, siblings, nieces and nephews in an order of precedence laid out in the intestacy rules.
Finally, if a person dies intestate with absolutely no surviving relatives, the whole estate goes to the Crown.