Who inherits money and property if someone dies without a will?

Making a will to make sure your children are taken care of

When someone passes away with a legally-binding will, the process for the legal teams overseeing its execution is clear, with named parties on hand to make sure

When there is no will, then the deceased will be dying ‘intestate’. If this happens, the law decides who should deal with the deceased person’s money, property and possessions.

Only married or civil partners or close relatives can inherit if someone dies intestate. Romantic partners, friends and business partners will not be included if surviving family members choose not to pass on assets to them.

If you still haven’t made a will, you can see how your estate could be divided by using this online calculator.

Guidelines on who will inherit assets if someone dies intestate:

The family will have no say in how the deceased person’s assets are split – it’s completely up to UK law decide who gets what.

The following points aren’t set in stone, but they’re guidance on how the estate may be split:

  • If you’re not married or in a civil partnership, your partner may get nothing – even if you’ve been together for several years, and you jointly own a property.
  • If you’re married or in a civil partnership, your spouse will inherit the lion’s share of your estate, if not all of it, and children may get nothing (except in Scotland). It’s worth remembering that this will happen if you’re separated – but not legally divorced.
  • If you’re living with someone, you have no children and one or more surviving parents, your estate will go to your parent(s).
  • If you were not married or in a legal partnership, you had one or more surviving parents and you had children, the estate is shared equally between your children and their children. If one of your children is already dead but they have children – your grandchildren – they will inherit instead.
  • If you die without a will and you have no living relatives, your money, property and possessions will belong to the Crown or the Government.

What happens if someone dies intestate in Scotland?

At time of writing, if there are no children, the surviving spouse will get the house if it’s valued up to £473,000, or a lump sum of the same amount if the house if valued above that.

As well as inheriting the house or a portion of its value, under ‘Prior Rights’, the spouse will also get the home’s contents up to a value of £29,000. If there are children the spouse gets a further £50,000, but without children they get £89,000.

There are further ‘legal rights’ governing the assets that are left over. These assets, which could be anything from furniture to cars, jewellery, money or shares are known as ‘moveable estate’ under Scottish law. If there are no children, the spouse receives a third of the moveable estate, but one half of it if there are children.

There is currently a move to simplify intestacy rules in Scotland and a solicitor can take you through how it works.

What happens if someone dies intestate in Northern Ireland?

In Northern Ireland, the rules for deceased’s estate without a will are similar to the UK.

If they were married or in a civil partnership, the spouse will get most if not all of the estate and any personal effects. If the estate is worth less than £250,000, the spouse or civil partner will get everything.

If it’s worth more and the inheritance goes to a spouse with no children, this total increases to £450,000. If the deceased person had children, their spouse or civil partner will get up to £250,000 of assets, and grandchildren can also inherit.

If the deceased has one child, their spouse or civil partner will get half of what’s left over, and their child will get the other half.

If they have more than one child, their spouse or civil partner will get a third of what’s left over, and the remaining two-thirds will be split equally between their children.

If someone dies intestate in Northern Ireland with no spouse, married partner or civil partner, the money will be split equally between any children.

If they had no children, it will go to their parents. If neither of their parents are alive, their estate will be split equally between:

  • Siblings
  • If they had siblings but they’re all deceased, their siblings’ children
  • If they have no siblings and no nieces or nephews, the estate will go to their grandparents
  • Finally, if they have no grandparents, the estate will be divided between their aunts and uncles – and if they’re not alive, their aunts and uncles’ children

If they have absolutely no family members, their estate will go to the Crown, via the Crown Solicitor's Office.

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