When a person dies without leaving a valid will, their property (the estate) must be shared out according to certain rules. Only married or civil partners and some other close relatives can inherit.
Married partners and civil partners
These partners inherit only if they are actually married or in a civil partnership at the time of death. If you are divorced or if your civil partnership has been legally ended – or if you were simply cohabiting – you can’t inherit under the “rules of intestacy”.
If there are surviving children, grandchildren or great grandchildren of the person and the estate is valued at more than £250,000, the partner will inherit:
If there are no surviving children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren – or the estate is worth less than £250,000 – the partner will inherit everything.
If the partners were “beneficial joint tenants” the surviving partner will automatically inherit the other partner’s share of the property. However, if the partners were “tenants in common”, the surviving partner does not. Where couples have joint bank accounts, the surviving partner will inherit the whole of the money. Property and money the partner inherits does not count as part of the estate when it is being valued.
If there is a surviving partner, any children (or adopted children) will inherit in equal shares one half of the value of the estate above £250,000. Children will inherit the whole estate if there is no surviving married or civil partner. A child whose parents are not married or have not registered a civil partnership can still inherit.
Children receive their inheritance when they reach the age of 18 – or marry or form a civil partnership under this age. Until then, trustees manage the inheritance on their behalf.
Grandchildren and great grandchildren
These cannot inherit from the estate unless either their parent or grandparent has died before the intestate person, or their parent is alive but dies before reaching the age of 18 without having married or formed a civil partnership
In these circumstances, the grandchildren and great grandchildren will inherit the share of their parent or grandparent.
Other close relatives
If the person who died had no surviving married partner or civil partner, children, grandchildren, great grand-children, parents, brothers, sisters, nephews or nieces – the order of priority is:
If there are no surviving relatives
The estate passes to the Crown, but the Crown can make grants from the estate. If you believe you have a good reason to apply for a grant, for example if you were living with the person for the 2 years before they died, you will need legal advice.
Cruse Bereavement Care supports people who are bereaved – www.cruse.org.uk or call 0808 808 1677. The GOV.UK website includes more information about what happens if someone dies without leaving a will.