After a loved one’s passing, the only way we have of ensuring that their final wishes are met is by referring to the will that they leave behind for us. Unfortunately, if they neglected to make one, or failed to create it according to the legal framework for a valid will, it may be the case that their estate is divided among close family according to the rules of intestacy.
Read more about these rules below.
When Are the Rules of Intestacy Used?
In the absence of a valid will, certain criteria will be used in order to determine who stands to inherit. These criteria are fact-based, which means that many longstanding and close relationships between the deceased and loved ones will be overlooked entirely, and give them no grounds on which to inherit what you may have wished for them to inherit. This most commonly effects non-married partners, but another, more extreme example here is a current partner’s child whom you have not legally adopted.
Similarly, adherence to the rules may mean that legally-recognised relationships which no longer reflect your situation are prioritised when it comes to distributing your estate. The most common example of this is spouses who have separated without going through legal divorce proceedings.
What Do the Rules Stipulate?
Under the rules, the first person to inherit your estate will be a married partner. As mentioned, if you have gone through an informal separation, they will still be considered the primary recipient of any money, property, or other assets you leave behind.
As of February 2020, if the value of your estate exceeds £270,000, then half of that excess will be shared between any biological or adopted children you may have. Prior to that point, this was limited to £250,000.
If, however, you leave behind no relatives who are considered eligible to inherit from you, then your estate is considered bona vacantia – or ‘vacant property’. Bona vacantia is passed onto the Crown, who may make grants to those who do not inherit under the rules of intestacy – though an appeal represents a lengthy and difficult process, and may not prove to be successful.
How to Avoid Leaving Your Estate to the Rules of Intestacy
The only way to ensure that your estate – and, by extension, your loved ones – will not be left to the neutrality of the rules of intestacy is by creating a will that is legally-sound, which means working with a qualified solicitor rather than attempting to wrestle with the many legal stipulations on your own.
All too often, the validity of a will is called into question over seemingly inconsequential clerical errors. Unfortunately, these errors are only brought to light after the death of the testator, meaning that the rules of intestacy often represent the only ‘fair’ option for the courts to take.
This can, of course, create significant difficulties for the deceased’s loved ones, and must be avoided at all costs by ensuring that the will is legally sound.