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About Citizens Advice
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Advice can vary depending on where you live.
Advice for other parts of the UK:
This advice applies to
When a person dies without leaving a valid will, their property (the estate) must be shared out according to certain rules. These are called the rules of intestacy. A person who dies without leaving a will is called an intestate person.
Only married or civil partners and some other close relatives can inherit under the rules of intestacy.
If someone makes a will but it is not legally valid, the rules of intestacy decide how the estate will be shared out, not the wishes expressed in the will.
For more information about what is a valid will, see Wills.
Married partners or civil partners inherit under the rules of intestacy only if they are actually married or in a civil partnership at the time of death. So if you are divorced or if your civil partnership has been legally ended, you can’t inherit under the rules of intestacy. But partners who separated informally can still inherit under the rules of intestacy.
If there are surviving children, grandchildren or great grandchildren of the person who died and the estate is valued at more than £250,000, the partner will inherit:
If there are no surviving children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren, the partner will inherit:
Couples may jointly own their home. There are two different ways of jointly owning a home. These are beneficial joint tenancies and tenancies in common.
If the partners were beneficial joint tenants at the time of the death, when the first partner dies, the surviving partner will automatically inherit the other partner's share of the property. However, if the partners are tenants in common, the surviving partner does not automatically inherit the other person's share.
For more information about beneficial joint tenancies and tenancies in common, see Buying with someone else in Buying a home.
Couples may also have joint bank or building society accounts. If one dies, the other partner will automatically inherit the whole of the money.
Property and money that the surviving partner inherits does not count as part of the estate of the person who has died when it is being valued for the intestacy rules.
Example: Tom and Heather are married and own their flat jointly as beneficial joint tenants. They have a child called Selma. Tom dies intestate leaving the jointly-owned flat worth £300,000, and £50,000 in shares in his own name. The flat goes automatically to Heather. This leaves an estate of £50,000 which also goes to Heather, as it is worth less than £250,000. Selma inherits nothing.
If Tom had owned the flat in his name alone, his estate would have been worth £350,000. It would be shared out according to the rules of intestacy, that is, Heather would get the first £250,000. This leaves an estate of £100,000. Heather would get £50,000 and Selma would get the remaining £50,000.
Children of the intestate person will inherit if there is no surviving married or civil partner. If there is a surviving partner, they will inherit only if the estate is worth more than a certain amount.
If there is no surviving partner, the children of a person who has died without leaving a will inherit the whole estate. This applies however much the estate is worth. If there are two or more children, the estate will be divided equally between them.
If there is a surviving partner, a child only inherits from the estate if the estate is valued at over £250,000. If there are two or more children, the children will inherit in equal shares:
All the children of the parent who has died intestate inherit equally from the estate. This also applies where a parent has children from different relationships.
A child whose parents are not married or have not registered a civil partnership can inherit from the estate of a parent who dies intestate. These children can also inherit from grandparents or great-grandparents who have died intestate.
Adopted children (including step-children who have been adopted by their step-parent) have rights to inherit under the rules of intestacy. But otherwise you have to be a biological child to inherit.
Children do not receive their inheritance immediately. They receive it when they:
Until then, trustees manage the inheritance on their behalf.
A grandchild or great grandchild cannot inherit from the estate of an intestate person unless either:
In these circumstances, the grandchildren and great grandchildren will inherit equal shares of the share to which their parent or grandparent would have been entitled.
Parents, brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews of the intestate person may inherit under the rules of intestacy. This will depend on a number of circumstances:
Other relatives may a right to inherit if the person who died intestate had no surviving married partner or civil partner, children, grandchildren, great grand-children, parents, brothers, sisters, nephews or nieces. The order of priority amongst other relatives is as follows:-
The following people have no right to inherit where someone dies without leaving a will:
However, even if you can't inherit under the rules of intestacy, you may be able to apply to court for financial provision from the estate.
If there are no surviving relatives who can inherit under the rules of intestacy, the estate passes to the Crown. This is known as bona vacantia. The Treasury Solicitor is then responsible for dealing with the estate. The Crown can make grants from the estate but does not have to agree to them.
If you are not a surviving relative, but you believe you have a good reason to apply for a grant, you will need legal advice.
For more information about bona vacantia go to the GOV.UK website at www.gov.uk.
For more information about getting legal advice, see Using a solicitor.
It is possible to rearrange the way property is shared out when someone dies without leaving a will, provided this is done within two years of the death. This is called making a deed of family arrangement or variation. All the people who would inherit under the rules of intestacy must agree.
If they agree, the property can be shared out in a different way so that people who do not inherit under the intestacy rules can still get some of the estate. Or they could agree that the amount that people get is different to the amount they would get under the rules of intestacy.
If you think that the way the estate is shared out should be rearranged, you will need legal advice. You may get legal aid.
For more information about legal aid, see Help with legal costs.
You may be able to apply to court for reasonable financial help from the estate of the person who has died intestate. For example, if you were living with the person who has died but you were not married to them, you would not inherit under the rules of intestacy. However, you could apply to court for financial help. You must have lived with them for at least two years immediately before their death. Another example is if you were always treated by the person who died as a child of the family. You would not inherit under the rules of intestacy but you could apply to the court for financial help.
You must make the application within a certain time limit although in some circumstances this can be extended.
The court may order:
If you want to apply to the court for financial help, you will need legal advice.
If you reject your inheritance, known as disclaiming it, there are special rules about who can inherit. You should seek advice about this.
Cruse Bereavement Care supports people who are bereaved and produces useful information and advice. Go to their website at: www.crusebereavementcare.org.uk. Their helpline is: 0844 477 9400.
The GOV.UK website includes more information about what happens if someone dies without leaving a will. Go to www.gov.uk.
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