When a person dies without leaving a legally sound will, it means they have died intestate. What happens next will often come as a shock to people who believed they had an assured inheritance - especially long-term partners who assumed they had legal entitlements because of a shared life with the deceased.

 

Intestacy rules

The truth of the matter is, there are strict laws to govern inheritance when there is no valid will, and they are known as the intestacy rules. These rules clearly state that the following people will not be able to claim a legal right of inheritance: partners who were not married to the deceased, or in a civil partnership with them; friends; relatives by marriage and carers.

 

Spouses and civil partners

If the deceased was married or in a civil partnership, and did not have any children, the entirety of their estate will be inherited by their spouse or partner, even if the couple was separated at the time of death. Only a divorce will stop an estranged spouse or civil partner from inheriting. 

 

Children

If the deceased was married or in a civil partnership, and did have children, the first £250,000 of their estate will be inherited by the spouse or partner. In addition, they will also receive 50% of the remainder of the estate. The other 50% will be divided between the children, but if they are under the age of 18, they will have to wait until they reach legal majority before they can inherit. If the deceased had children, but was not married or in a civil partnership, the children will inherit all of the estate as soon as they are of age. It's when there was no marriage, civil partnership or children that matters become complicated. 

 

Other relatives

There is a hierarchy of relatives who can inherit from a person who died intestate and the intestacy list includes: parents, grandchildren, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. The decision on who will take priority will depend on numerous factors. If the intestacy list is exhausted then the estate is put under control of the Crown. At this point, more distant relatives can make a claim if they can provide evidence of their family tree. 

 

Appeals to the courts

It is possible for people who think they deserved an inheritance to ask the courts to rectify the situation by awarding them a reasonable share of the estate, out of a sense of fairness rather than legal obligation. One such example would be someone who was living with the deceased but was not married to, or in a civil partnership with, them. Another example would be a person who was to all intents and purposes treated like the deceased's own child. There is no guarantee that a court application of this nature will succeed, and failure to make a moral claim on an estate is far from unusual. This is why everyone is advised to make a will; it is the only way to ensure that assets, property and possessions are divided exactly as they were intended to be.

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