Making a deed of family arrangement or variation

In England, the way property is shared out when someone dies without leaving a will (i.e. intestate) can be rearranged if this is done within two years of their death.

This is called making a deed of family arrangement or variation and all the people who would inherit under the rules of intestacy must agree.

Once agreement is reached, the property can be distributed differently so that those who would not inherit under intestacy rules can still receive a share of the estate. Alternatively, they could agree that the amount people receive is different to what they would receive under intestacy rules.

Estate rearranged

If you believe the estate should be rearranged, you will need legal advice (and it may be possible to get legal aid and/or help with legal costs).

For example, you may be able to apply to the court for reasonable financial help from the estate of the person who died without leaving a will. If you lived with that person but were not married to them, the law of intestacy decree that you do not inherit but you could apply to the courts for financial assistance.

You would need to have lived with that person for at least two years immediately before their death.

Child of the family

Another example is where you were treated like a child of the family. Again, intestacy rules mean that you would not inherit, but the courts may rule in your favour for financial assistance.

Applications must be mad with certain time limits, though it is possible for these to be extended depending on the circumstances.

Courts may order regular payments from the estate, a lump sum payment from the estate and/or property to be transferred from the estate.

The rules of intestacy side bar

The order of intestacy is as follows

  • Married partners or civil partners if they are actually married or in a civil partnership at the time of death. (Partners who separated informally can still inherit under the rules of intestacy).
  • If the person who died has surviving children, grandchildren or great grandchildren and the estate is valued at more than £270,000, the partner inherits:
  • All the deceased’s personal property and belongings and the first £270,000 of the estate, and half the remaining estate.
  • If there are no surviving children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren, the partner inherits everything (estate plus interest from the date of death).
  • The children of the intestate person inherit if there is no surviving married or civil partner. If there are two or more children, they inherit an equal amount of the estate. This also applies where parents have children from different relationships.
  • Adopted children have the same rights, including step-children who have been adopted by their step-parent.
  • Children do not receive their inheritance until they reach the age of 18 or marry or form a civil partnership before that age.
  • Grandchildren and great-grandchildren do not inherit from an intestate person’s estate unless their parent or grandparent has died before the intestate person or their parent is alive when the intestate person dies, but then subsequently dies before reaching the age of 18 without having married or had a civil partnership.
  • Parents, siblings and nieces and nephews of the intestate person may inherit, depending on if there is a surviving married or civil partner or if there are children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren.
  • The same is true of cousins.
  • If there are no surviving relations, the estate passes to the Crown.


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