When a person passes away without a will or had a will that was considered invalid, they are considered to die ‘intestate’,
If you pass away without a will, what happens to your estate will depend on the intestacy rules depending on where you live in the UK. The rules follow an order of succession in regard to who will benefit from the estate first.
In England and Wales, the first person who will benefit from some of the estate is your surviving spouse or civil partner. If the estate is worth less than £270,000 or you have no children, your spouse will receive the whole estate, but if it is worth more what happens is different depending on whether you have children or not.
If you have children, the estate will be split slightly differently:
Your spouse would receive the first £270,000 and all your personal belongings, and
The remaining amount is split equally, with half going to your spouse and the other half being split equally between your children. If any children have predeceased you, then their share will pass to any children, your grandchildren, that they have left behind.
It is worth mentioning that this rule only applies to spouses and civil partners, it does not apply if you are not married or in a civil partnership, they cannot inherit under the rules of intestacy.
2, Children and direct descendants
If you are separated and not yet divorced, your spouse or civil partner can still inherit under these rules however, their right under these rules is revoked however as soon as you are divorced or the civil partnership is dissolved.
If you no longer have a spouse or were never married, or in a civil partnership, the next to inherit under the rules would be any children. The estate will be split equally between them, and once again, if any child has predeceased you, their share will go to any children they leave behind.
Whilst adopted children have the same rights as natural children, stepchildren will not be considered and so will not inherit under these rules
Although many people will outlive their parents, if you do not have a spouse or children, they will inherit the first 50% of your estate each.
If your parents have predeceased you, the next in line to inherit your estate will be any siblings, who will receive the estate in equal share. As with children, if your siblings have predeceased you, their share will go to any children that they leave behind.
Following these rules, should a beneficiary still not be found, the list will continue as follows:
5, Half brothers and sisters
7, Aunts and uncles
8, Half aunts and uncles
As you can see, without making a will your estate is left in the hands of fate, with no control over where it will go. In the worst case it could go to a person you really would not like to benefit under your estate, such as a disowned child or separated spouse.
Equally, a much-loved partner could also end up with nothing if you are not married or in a civil partnership, or stepchildren will not be considered at all.
It is always best to protect your family and your estate by making a will and making your wishes clear.