What is intestacy?
When someone dies without a legal will, it is known as dying intestate. Without legally valid guidance from the deceased, solicitors will distribute the estate following a set of strict rules. If a will is deemed invalid in the eyes of the law, the individual will also be defined as an intestate individual. The wishes in the will would be ignored in this case, and the same rules of intestacy applied.
The rules of intestacy apply to spouses, civil partners, and where there is no surviving spouse, other close relatives such as children. Depending on where you live in the UK, the rules are different, and it is essential to know what specific laws apply to your case. You should seek advice from a specialist in the field to understand if the rules are different in your area.
Spouses and Civil Partners
If your spouse or civil partner died without a legally valid will then you are likely to inherit their estate. This means all their property, money, investments and other possessions will pass to you thanks to the rules of intestacy. What you do with this inheritance once given to you is entirely at your discretion.
If your marriage or partnership has ended before the time of death, then these rules do not apply. If you have only separated, then you could still inherit the estate. If you merely lived with your partner, the rules do not apply. This rule applies even if you have lived with your partner for decades. You may find this unfair, but it is dictated within the strict boundaries of intestacy.
When direct descendants are involved, the rules of intestacy become more complex. Direct descendants include children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. When a spouse or civil partner dies, you will receive all the property and possessions. However, the remaining value of the estate is shared with these direct descendants.
You will receive the first £250,000 of the estate, plus half of what is left above this amount.
The remaining monies in the estate will be split equally between surviving descendants. This applies to those children who are from a different relationship.
If there are no descendants, then the spouse or civil partner will receive the whole estate.
The Citizen’s Advice Bureau gives more detailed examples to help illustrate these rules.
Seek advice now
There is one way to avoid the rules of intestacy, and that is by putting in place a legally valid will. With this document in place, all your wishes will be honoured. This can protect your live-in partner and ensure that children receive an inheritance, even where the estate is small. More than anything, a will can make it straightforward what happens to your estate. There is nothing more challenging than the legal battle that can ensue in the event of a death without a will.
It is a good idea to seek both financial and legal advice before the rules of intestacy must be applied, no matter how much you want to avoid the problematic concept of your mortality. Some pre-planning now can prevent much heartache when you are gone.
The content in this article was correct on 23rd June 2019. You should not rely on this article to make important financial decisions. Teachers Financial Planning offers advice on pensions for teachers and non-teachers. Please use the contact form below to arrange an informal chat with an advisor and see how we can help you.