When a person dies without a Will, the process of bequeathing their assets is complicated. First, the estate is divided based on rules of intestacy. In most cases, this means the closest living relatives to the deceased receive a proportion of the estate.
If a property owner in your family dies without a Will, you might have to take control of the process. We’ve put together a brief guide to the process involved to get you started.
Who can inherit property?
In most cases, only close relatives of the deceased stand to inherit property from an intestate person. Some specific individuals wouldn’t usually have an automatic right to inherit:
- Partners who aren’t married or in a civil partnership
- “In-laws” or relations through marriage
Why marriage is so important
In the UK, a spouse always takes priority in terms of inheritance. So if you want your spouse or civil partner to receive everything when you pass away, you don’t need a Will; this is the legal default. Everything passes to a spouse if there isn’t a Will. And this rule applies if the partners were separated at the time of death.
Even children and grandchildren have no immediate right to inherit property from an intestate person. A legal process will decide where the assets should go. It might be the case that the estate is split up and shared between several close relatives if there isn’t a surviving spouse.
In the UK, couples buy property in two ways: joint tenancy and tenants in common. If the deceased’s home is co-owned with a spouse as a joint tenancy, the entire property automatically passes to the surviving spouse.
Tenants in common means each person owns a share of the property as if it were a separate entity meaning the deceased’s share won’t automatically transfer to the surviving partner. In most cases, the percentage would become another asset in the deceased’s estate. And it would be subject to inheritance tax if the total value of the estate exceeded HMRC’s threshold.
Do children automatically inherit intestate assets?
The simple answer is it depends. A child can inherit an estate if there’s no surviving spouse. However, if there’s a surviving parent, the deceased’s child would only inherit if the estate is worth more than £250,000.
If there’s more than one child, the estate would usually be split equally among all the siblings. However, when children inherit property after the passing of a parent, a court might order that the house be kept in trust until the children of the deceased become adults. After all, it might be a family home.
In most cases, children inherit property and assets if there are no surviving parents. And this includes adopted children, too. But the actual transfer of assets doesn’t usually happen until the beneficiary turns 18.
What if there are no living relatives?
If there are no living relatives at the time of the person’s death, the estate doesn’t pass to close friends or carers. Instead, the “bona vacantia” law states that the estate passes to the Crown. The government then decides what to do with the estate.
If you’ve inherited property, you might want to sell the house as quickly as possible. After all, you’re responsible for maintenance, council tax, mortgage repayments and any tenants in the property until the property changes hands.