Intestacy refers to the situation of an estate when the deceased person left no will (or diligent effort failed to find their testament). If there is a will, but it only mentions a few assets then the balance of that estate is intestate too.
However, either of these estates must be worth more than any current debt. If this is not the case then there is nothing share, because intestacy rules require debt must be settled first.
Foundation Principles behind UK Intestacy Rules
The intestacy rules for England and Wales set down the order of inheritance rights of family members. The rights of these persons to inherit are demarcated as follows:
- Wives, husbands and civil partners (spouses) must outlive the deceased partner by at least 28 days to qualify
- Other partners have no automatic right to inherit because they were not in a marriage or civil partnership at the time
- Sons and daughters who are legally adopted qualify. However stepchildren have no rights under intestacy rules
- Half-blood siblings share one parent. Half-blood uncles and aunts share one of the deceased’s grandparents
How English and Welsh Intestacy Law Works in Practice
SCENARIO 1: A spouse, children or other descendants survive
The Inheritance and Trustees Power Act of 2014 ensures an estate distributes more favourably to the marriage or civil partner. Therefore:
- The marriage / civil partner receives the personal effects, the first £250,000, and half the remaining estate (if any)
- The children share the balance of the estate between them. If one or more have died then their children (if any) share their entitlement
- If there are no qualifying children or grandchildren then the deceased’s marriage / civil partner inherits the entire estate
Where the person died before the Inheritance and Trustees Power Act of 2014 came into effect a different set of rules apply.
SCENARIO 2: A person dies without a spouse, children or other descendants
If a person dies without leaving a will or the above family members, then their parents (if any) inherit their estate
SCENARIO 3: A person dies without any of the above family surviving
A deceased’s siblings (full brothers and sisters) are next up for consideration. In this case their siblings share their estate. If one or more have died then their children (if any) share their entitlement. The same logic applies if there are only half siblings (if any)
SCENARIO 4: There are no siblings or half siblings either
The estate then passes in its entirety to the grandparents. If there are none then any aunts and uncles share it. If one or more have died then their children (if any) share their entitlement.
SCENARIO 5: Only half-blood uncles and aunts / their children survive
The estate passes in equal shares to the half-blood aunts and uncles. If one or more have died then their children (if any) share their entitlement among them.
What Happens If There Are No Family Members?
If none of the above family members are alive at the time the deceased died, then their estate becomes ‘Bona Vacantia’ ownerless property. Hence it belongs to the Crown (or the relevant Duchy in Lancashire or Cornwall) under the English and Welsh intestacy rules.