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Insights - 04/07/2022

What happens if you die intestate?

In the news recently, it was announced that the late Chadwick Boseman died without making a Will and his estate will be divided between his widow and his parents. Of course, that’s in the United States, so what happens in England & Wales if someone you love dies without making a Will, known as dying intestate?

What happens if someone dies interstate? 

It may surprise you to discover that it is far from clear at first glance as to who will inherit on intestacy. The rules of how a person’s estate will be divided, and who will inherit in the event that a person dies without a will, are set out in the Administration of Estates Act 1925.  The beneficiaries of the intestate estate vary depending on who survived the deceased as well as how much the estate is worth – is there a surviving spouse or civil partner, and are there surviving children? Are there grandchildren of a child who died before the deceased?

It is important to note that no matter how long a person cohabits with their partner, unless they marry or enter into a civil partnership, the surviving partner will inherit only property owned jointly with the deceased and nothing owned in the deceased’s sole name. For cohabiting couples, assets in the sole name of the deceased will pass to his or her children if there are any, or potentially to the deceased’s parents, or brothers and sisters. While this may seem unfair, it is purely the result of the deceased choosing not to make a Will and the legislation designed to operate when that happens.

It is also important to note that the legislation defines children only as blood issue or legally adopted children.  It does not include stepchildren, or any child who does not have the deceased’s name on their birth certificate.

Grandchildren will not inherit anything unless their parent, a child of the deceased, has already died.

What happens to your property when you die interstate? 

The asset which can cause the most difficulties when someone dies is their residence.  Unless the property was owned as joint tenants between the deceased and the surviving spouse, civil partner or cohabiting partner, it will not automatically be inherited by the survivor.  If the residence is owned as tenants in common, and the deceased is survived by both a spouse and children, the value of the deceased’s half share could be divided between the survivor and the children if it is worth more than £270,000. If it is owned as tenants in common with a cohabitee, the cohabitee will not inherit any of the deceased’s share of the property at all. Undesirable outcomes can include not being able to sell the property until all the children are over 18, or even co-owning a property with potentially estranged members of the deceased’s wider family, with the survivor having to pay rent simply to stay in their own house.

Conversely, if a residential or investment property is owned as joint tenants with an individual who is not part of the immediate family, it will not pass under the rules of intestacy but will pass automatically to the surviving owner.

If you or a member of your family dies without making a Will, it could result in the estate passing to people with whom the deceased had little contact, and leave closer loved ones with little to no share of the estate (and in some cases, having to leave their home).

The only way to ensure that you have provided for the most important people in your life is to ensure your wishes are set out in a Will, but if you find yourself dealing with an intestate estate, Morr & Co are able to offer advice and assistance to ensure that it is dealt with correctly. Contact our team if you have any questions regarding an interstate estate.


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