What Happens To Your Estate If You Die Without Making A Will

You may have seen daytime TV shows involving “heir hunters”.  These people aim to track down the heirs of people who’ve died intestate.  They then help them to claim their inheritance (for a fee).

In the real world, intestacy isn’t usually so exciting.  In fact, it can be very frustrating for the people left behind.  Here is a quick guide to what you need to know about it.

The basics of bona vacantia

If a person leaves a will then they specify who should own their worldly goods after they cease to have need of them.  If they do not, then their estate is considered to be “bona vacantia” or “ownerless goods”.

These goods can be claimed.  The claimant must, however, show that they have a legal right to them.  Generally, the claim is made on the basis of marriage/civil partnership or blood relationship.

Spouses/civil partners and children have the first claim

If a person was married or in a civil partnership but had no children, their spouse/civil partner can claim the whole estate.

If a person was married or in a civil partnership and had children, the estate may be claimed entirely by the spouse/civil partner.  Alternatively, it may be split between the spouse/civil partner and the children.

The spouse/civil partner will receive the deceased’s personal effects plus the first £270K of the rest of the estate.  If the estate is worth more than this, the spouse/civil partner will receive 50% of the value of the remaining assets.  The rest will be split equally between the deceased’s children.

If a person was not married or in a civil partnership but had children, then the whole estate would be divided between their children.

No distinction is made between children born to parents who are married/ in a civil partnership and those that aren’t.  Similarly, divorce does not, in itself, change inheritance rights (although it may lead to a remarriage that could).  Adult and minor children are treated in the same way.

Parents and siblings are next in line

If a person dies without either marrying/entering a civil partnership or having children, then their parents can claim their estate.  If one of their parents has predeceased them, the other can claim the full estate.

If both of their parents have predeceased them, full-blood siblings have first claim and half-blood siblings second claim.  Again, the siblings have equal shares.

Grandparents, uncles and aunts have the final claim

If none of the aforementioned relatives exist, the estate can be claimed by grandparents.  If the grandparents are dead, it can be claimed by full-blood uncles and aunts and then half-blood uncles and aunts.

The monarch has the last claim

If no other heir can be found, the estate is claimed by the monarch.  In practical terms, this means the Treasury.

Some estate claims can be passed through generations

Grandchildren, cousins, nephews and nieces can all inherit if the relevant parent, sibling, half-sibling, uncle or aunt has predeceased them.  In principle, their claims can be passed on to their descendants.  In practice, this is extremely unusual.

Other people may be able to make a financial claim on the estate

If a person can prove that they were financially supported by the deceased, they may be able to make a claim for that support to continue after their death.  This is currently the only situation in which a non-married partner could potentially have a viable claim on a person’s estate.

The closure of the estate requires an administrator

When a person makes a will, they appoint an executor.  Where there is no will, an Administrator must be appointed.  Even at the best of times, this can be a lengthy, tedious and complicated process.

If you would like further help or assistance in discussing your finances, please do get in touch.

This article is for general information purposes only


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