The Laws of Intestacy

Feb 27, 2024 | Estate Planning

The laws of intestacy, often referred to as the default rules of inheritance, these come into play when someone passes away without leaving a will. This legal situation, known as dying ‘intestate,’ can lead to a structured distribution of assets. These laws outline who gets what from the deceased estate.

We explain the basic rules of intestacy in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

England & Wales: The Spouse and Children First

In England and Wales, the laws of intestacy follow a specific order of precedence:

  1. Spouse/Civil Partner: If the deceased was legally married or in a civil partnership, the surviving spouse or partner is first in line to inherit. They receive personal possessions and assets up to £270,000, along with half of the remaining estate, with the other half going to the deceased’s surviving children.
  2. Children: If there is no surviving spouse, the estate is divided equally among the children, including legally adopted children, but excluding stepchildren. If a child of the deceased has passed away, their descendants (e.g., grandchildren) inherit in their place.
  3. Parents: Should the deceased have no spouse or children, the estate goes to the surviving parents, shared equally if both are alive.
  4. Brothers and Sisters: In the absence of the above, siblings inherit the estate. If a sibling has previously passed away, their children (nephews or nieces) may inherit instead.
  5. Extended Relatives: If none of the above relatives can be traced, more distant relatives like half-siblings, grandparents, uncles, aunts, or their descendants may become heirs.
  6. The Crown: If no eligible heirs are found, the entire estate reverts to the Crown.

It’s important to note that minor children do not gain absolute ownership of their inheritance until they reach 18 years of age or marry or form a civil partnership before that age. Until then, the executor(s) manage the funds on their behalf.

Scotland: A Unique Legal Landscape

In Scotland, intestacy laws differ significantly from those in England and Wales:

  1. Prior Rights: After debts and liabilities are settled, the surviving spouse or civil partner has certain prior rights, including rights to the family home up to £473,000, furnishings up to £29,000, and cash amounts ranging from £50,000 to £89,000, depending on the presence of children.
  2. Legal Rights: In cases where the deceased left children or linear descendants, they receive any cash over £50,000 and two-thirds of the residual estate, with one-third going to the spouse. Without children, the spouse receives £89,000 in cash and half of the remaining estate. The other half is shared among parents, siblings, and surviving siblings’ descendants.
  3. No Spouse or Civil Partner: In the absence of a spouse or civil partner, prior rights do not apply. The estate is then distributed among children, parents, siblings, and other more distant relatives, with the Crown as the last resort.

Northern Ireland: A Familiar Path

Northern Ireland’s intestacy laws bear similarities to those in England and Wales:

  1. Surviving Spouse: The surviving spouse is the first to inherit, provided they outlive the deceased by at least 28 days. They receive the first £250,000 plus personal possessions.
  2. Spouse and Children: The remaining estate is split 50/50 between the spouse and children, with any surplus shared equally among the children.
  3. No Spouse: In the absence of a spouse, children or linear descendants inherit equally. If neither spouse nor children are present, the order of inheritance includes parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and the closest blood relative.
  4. The Crown: If no eligible relatives are found, the estate passes to the Crown.

Understanding the laws of intestacy is crucial, as it ensures that a person’s assets are distributed according to legal defaults. However, these defaults may not align with individual preferences. Consulting with a legal professional is often the best way to navigate the complexities of estate planning.

At SJB Global, we specialize in estate planning and can provide you with expert guidance to create a customized will that reflects your desires and ensures the smooth transition of your assets to your chosen beneficiaries. Don’t leave your legacy to chance.

Remember, a well-prepared will not only guarantees that your loved ones are taken care of but also provides you with peace of mind knowing that your wishes will be honoured.

This communication is for informational purposes only based on our understanding of current legislation and practices which are subject to change and are not intended to constitute, and should not be construed as, investment advice, investment recommendations or investment research. You should seek advice from a professional adviser before embarking on any financial planning activity. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the information contained in this communication is correct, we are not responsible for any errors or omissions.

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By scheduling an appointment with an adviser they will reach out to you at your requested time. 
Personal advice, whenever it suits you.

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