Dying intestate or dying without a will can have serious effects on your estate.
If you don’t leave behind a will that details your wishes, then the rules of intestacy will be implemented. The question is, then what does this mean for you?
The rules of intestacy
These rules determine how your estate should be distributed should you die without a will or with a legally valid one. They often lead to disputes among your surviving loved ones. Under these inheritance rules, your spouse – should you have one – is usually first in line. They are followed by children, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, grandparents and then aunts and uncles in that order. If you have no surviving relatives, your estate is handed over to the Crown.
As mentioned above, married or civil partners are always eligible beneficiaries through the rules of intestacy, but if you are divorced or unmarried, your partner usually won’t qualify. There are thresholds. If you die and your estate is valued under a certain amount, then the spouse will inherit it all regardless of whether there are surviving children. If your estate is over this amount, your spouse will be entitled to most of the estate. A far smaller percentage will go to the children.
Jointly owned assets
Forming a partnership with another person, whether you end up married or not, usually means that you will end up sharing assets with them. If one of the couple then passes away, what does this mean for the jointly owned asset? In most cases, if you are married or have formed a civil partnership, the other person will be able to inherit your half, but it can vary depending on the asset and the agreement in place. While rare, there are cases that are more complex, which require legal intervention.
For those who jointly own a home with their partner, there are two main types of shared homeownership. Firstly, there are tenancies in common. If you or your partner were to die intestate while tenants in common, then the other party would not automatically receive the other persons half. Next, there are beneficial joint tenancies; this form of homeownership would entitle the other person to inherit your share of the property.
A child’s rights
As mentioned above, when someone dies, the amount of inheritance their children are entitled to according to the rules of intestacy depends on whether there is a surviving partner and how much the estate is worth. If there is no surviving partner, then the entire amount will be divided equally between the children. The children will not receive their inheritance until they turn 18 or are married or in a civil partnership. Until that time, a trustee is needed to manage the estate on their behalf.
Who isn’t eligible?
In the United Kingdom, the intestacy rules do rule out the following individuals from qualifying for inheritance. It is all about the legality of your relationships. Any partner who is not legally tied to you either by marriage or civil partnership will not qualify for inheritance. Stepchildren are not eligible, but all biological and adopted children are because they are legally related to you. Friends also do not qualify, neither do in-laws.
What if you have no relatives?
If you die without a will and you don’t have any relatives who are eligible under the rules of intestacy, then in most cases, your entire estate will be handed over to the Crown. This is because, legally, it is considered ownerless property. Anyone who feels as though they deserve some inheritance can send a request to the Crown, but they must have good reason. Otherwise, they are unlikely to be successful.
The importance of wills
It should be clear that without a will, your wishes will not be followed. Take stock of your assets and your loved ones. What are your wishes? By having a will, you can make sure that everyone has what you want them to have and avoid the archaic rules of intestacy. Writing a will does not have to be complicated or expensive. For example, E.L.M Legal Services offers a free consultation to discuss your options with you and set out the process to better understand. You can reach out to their experts here to learn more.
The rules of intestacy are arguably old-fashioned. And unless you want your estate to fall into them, then making sure you have a legally compliant will in place is a must.