If someone dies without making a will he is said to die intestate and his estate is inherited according to intestacy law. A few general points:
Intestacy law divides relatives into groups or classes according to their blood relationship to the deceased, for example, children, siblings, grandparents, etc. All members of a given class inherit in equal shares. If a member of one class has died before the deceased leaves issue who survive the deceased, the issue inherit the share which their predeceasing parent would have inherited had he survived, equally between them.
There is a specific order in which the various classes inherit and if all members of a given class have died before the deceased without leaving issue who survived the deceased, the next class inherits. The word ‘child’ and ‘children’ are used to mean person’s immediate descendants (as opposed to grandchildren) and do not include a stepchild or stepchildren, but no distinction is made between legitimate and illegitimate children. Adopted children inherit from their adoptive parents and not from their birth parents.
The word ‘issue’ is used to include children and/or grandchildren. If those entitled to inherit are under the age of 18, the inheritance is held in trust for them until they either reach the age of 18, marry or enter into a registered civil partnership under that age. Net estate means the estate after deducting all debts, liabilities, inheritance tax and funeral and testamentary expenses.
To decide who is entitled to inherit, look for the first class and if there is no member of the class who survived the deceased or predeceased him leaving issue who survived him, move to the next class.
The first person to have a claim on the estate is the surviving spouse or registered civil partner, and the amount to which he or she is entitled depends upon the size of the estate and whether or not there are any surviving issue or certain other close relatives. If the spouse or partner survived, but for a period of less than 28 days beginning on the day on which the intestate died, the estate is distributed as though the spouse or partner had not survived the intestate.
If the deceased left a surviving spouse or registered civil partner but no issue and no parent, brother or sister of the whole blood or issue of a brother or sister of the whole blood, the surviving spouse or partner inherits the whole estate
If the deceased left a surviving spouse or civil partner an issue or any of the specified relatives, the surviving spouse or partner is entitled to the deceased’s personal chattels, that is, moveable items such as sporting trophies or motor car, but personal chattels do not include items used in any business for example a delivery van
The surviving spouse or civil partner is also entitled to a fixed sum of money known as statutory legacy and interest on the statutory legacy until payment at the rate of 6% from the date of death
If the deceased is survived by issue the spouse’s or partner’s statutory legacy is £125,000 unless the deceased died after the 1st of February 2009 when it was revised to £250,000. If there are no surviving issue but there is a surviving parent, brother or sister of the whole blood surviving, or issue of a brother or sister of the whole blood who died before the deceased, the legacy was £200,000 until the 1st of February 2009 when it was increased to £450,000.
The surviving spouse or civil partner is further entitled to one half of what is known as ‘the residuary estate’, that is what remains of the net estate after deducting the personal chattels and the statutory legacy. If there are any surviving issue, the surviving spouse or partner is entitled to the share of the residuary estate only during his or her lifetime, but if there is no surviving issue, then the surviving spouse or partner is entitled to the share for his or her use and benefit absolutely.
Where the spouse or partner is only entitled to half share of the residuary estate during his or her remaining lifetime, because it has to be left for those who are entitled to entitled to inherit it after his or her own death, the spouse or partner can only spend the income that share produces and cannot spend the capital sum represented by the share. Where the spouse or partner is entitled to the share for his or her own use and benefit absolutely he or she can, of course, dispose of both the capital and income as he or she pleases.