The rules of intestacy seem simple, but there is a lot of room for confusion when someone dies without leaving a will.

Intestacy cases can be straightforward. If someone dies and they have a surviving spouse and civil partner, the whole estate (up to the value of £270,000) goes to them. If the deceased had children, the spouse or partner keeps the first £270,000, the deceased’s personal belongings and half of what is left.

The other half goes to the children. If there are children, but no surviving spouse or civil partner, the estate is given to the children or the deceased’s direct descendants.

Intestacy cases

At Finders International, we deal with many intestacy cases where the person who dies didn’t have a valid will in place and there is no surviving spouse, civil partner or children. Then, the priority list for inheritance is as follows: parents, siblings, or their children, grandparents, uncles, and aunts, or their children.

Do all the relatives on the list receive the same amount of money? Not necessarily. To find the rightful heirs when there are no immediate next of kin, we start with parents, then siblings or their children and keep going until we find any surviving relatives.

However, if we discover uncles and aunts, but then a sibling or their child comes forward, that person is entitled to the entire estate once all the checks are made. Nieces and nephews are prioritised over cousins where this applies too.

Heirs to an estate

If a surviving spouse or civil partner only lived for two weeks after their partner died, then they are considered to have died, because they did not outlive their partner or spouse by 28 days – and so their heirs are not necessarily the heirs to the first deceased person’s estate.

This runs the risk of passing on assets in a way that the person who died might not have intended; nor the family have expected.

So, if someone dies intestate and without a spouse, civil partner or children, their sibling might inherit the estate. If that sibling dies not long afterwards, the first person’s assets are part of the sibling’s estate.

Siblings’ inheritance

If the sibling had a will, that estate must be distributed as specified. But if the sibling did not have a will either, but had a wife/civil partner, that person takes priority. Say, for example, the sibling had children from another marriage/relationship. The wife/civil partner would take priority over them, and the original person’s estate would go to them, rather than that person’s nieces/nephews.

Common-law partners – people who live with someone but are not married/in a civil partnership – have no legal rights to inherit, even if they have lived with that person for a long time. But that person can make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 if they meet certain criteria.

Half brothers and sisters do not have the same rights as full siblings (who have the same rights). So if someone has no living parents, a spouse/partner and no children, and wants their estate to be shared equally between their siblings, including those who have different mothers/fathers, then they need to specify this in a will.

Step children can’t inherit anything from the person who died, just as step parents have no rights to their step child’s estate, though under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act of 1975, stepchildren can claim money from the estate if they meet certain requirements. This applies even if the step child’s parents did not marry.




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