What happens when you die intestate?

Making a Last Will and Testament in order to lay out formally what you would like to happen to your worldy goods after you die can seem daunting. Not only does it mean facing up to the fact that you will, one day, no longer be here, it also involves making big decisions and sorting out the paperwork.

However, a solicitor can guide you through what is, in fact, normally a pretty painless process. You will have plenty of time to decide what should happen to your savings, property and other belongings, and can also talk through how you would like any minors, dependents or pets cared for, in the event of your death. You are also at liberty to amend your Will whenever you choose to reflect changes in your personal circumstances.

Son, father and grandfather looking at old photos together

Dying intestate (without leaving a Will) causes many problems. It can stir up deep emotions amongst your family and friends and delay the distribution of your estate. It could also mean that your goods are not passed to those whom you would have chosen, since the law must step in and work to carefully laid out protocol, regardless of the personal feelings of those involved.

Without a Will, the deceased person’s estate must be shared out according to intestacy rules. Only legally married spouses or civil partners, plus a short list of close relatives can inherit. Divorce prevents an ex-spouse from inheriting under the rules, although informal or incomplete separation from a marriage or civil partnership does not. If the person’s spouse or partner is divorced or no longer alive, their estate will pass in equal parts to any surviving children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren or to the nearest living relative(s).

Children legally adopted by the intestate person have the same rights as biological offspring. Minors will normally receive their share of the state when they reach 18 years of age or marry/form a civil partnership if younger than that. Until then, trustees are appointed to manage the funds on their behalf.

If the intestate person’s estate is valued at more than £250,000 and their legally recognised partner is still alive, their partner will inherit all the personal property, plus the first £250,000 of the estate, plus half the value of the remaining estate. Anything left over will go to surviving children, or further down the family tree as appropriate.

People unable to inherit under intestacy rules include unmarried partners or those not in a civil partnership, friends and carers and relations by marriage, e.g. a sister or brother in law. In the event of there being no qualifying family to inherit, the estate passes to the Crown.

If you are uncertain about the rules, or have reason to lodge an appeal or apply to the court for financial help (in the case of unmarried partners, or children treated as the intestate person’s own but never adopted), a solicitor will be able to guide you through the process, plus there is information and advice available on the Government’s website.

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