When an adult person has died in England or Wales, their assets such as their property, money, financial affairs and possessions must be liquidated (sold) or transferred, their liabilities settled and the balance paid to their beneficiaries. This is known as Administering the Estate.
When someone dies without having a valid Will, this is known as dying Intestate. In this situation, and also if there are no beneficiaries stated in a valid Will, the people who benefit from the Estate aand who can deal with the estate are determined by laws commonly referred to as the Rules of Intestacy.
Put simply, this means that if you die without a valid Will, the law will determine who should be allowed to administer the estate (and apply for Probate) and who should receive everything you own, from your bank accounts to your pets.
Intestacy rules can be harsh, as they often don’t allow for modern family relationships. They only recognise the next-of-kin as those people entitled to administer and receive the Estate, so in many Probate cases when there is no Will unmarried couples, unregistered partners, step children, step brothers and sisters will not inherit anything at all.
When probate without a will is required, an application must be made to the Court before the legal administration of the Estate can begin.
The Intestacy Rules determine who will benefit from an Estate. This can be an involved and complex process, as the family tree will need to be very clearly understood. Broadly, the order in which the law determines who should deal with the estate when there is no will is as follows:
- Children (or if they died earlier, their children)
- Siblings (of if they died earlier, their children)
- Half siblings (of if they died earlier, their children)
- Uncles and aunts (of if they died earlier, their children)
- Half uncles and aunts (of if they died earlier, their children)
- The Crown under Bona Vacantia rules
- A creditor of the estate
You will need to work down the list until you reach somebody eligible, and where there is more than one person eligible in the same class, those people are all equally entitled to deal with the estate.
However, the list above does not exactly mirror who may inherit an estate where there is no will, although it is similar in some respects.
Due to the complexities of Intestacy law, cases of Probate with no valid Will can have a greater risk of mistakes being made in the identification of the Estate administrators and beneficiaries. Estate administrators can be held personally financially liable for any loss resulting from a breach of their duty, even if any mistakes made were genuine errors.
We suggest that intestacy cases are best dealt with by specialist Probate Practitioners, such as us.