Intestacy - What is it & when does it occur?

Intestacy refers to the law of inheritance which determines how an estate is distributed upon death.

Intestacy occurs when someone dies without leaving a valid Will or a partial intestacy can arise when someone has left a valid Will which disposes some but not all of their estate.

How is an estate distributed upon intestacy?

It is a common misconception that if there is a surviving spouse or civil partner they will inherit everything or that the Crown will inherit everything if a valid Will is not left. This is not necessarily the case. If there are surviving blood relatives, there is an order determining who inherits the estate and this is in accordance with a statutory set of rules which were updated in 2014. It is important to note that only direct family members will inherit under intestacy. This means if you have a partner or close friends, they will not inherit any of your estate upon intestacy. Also, if you are separated but not divorced or legally ended your civil partnership, your spouse or civil partner will still inherit.

The intestacy rules govern who inherits your estate and this will depend on the value of your estate at the date of your death and who your surviving relatives are. This is a complex area and the estate must be correctly distributed in accordance with the intestacy rules. If the surviving relatives entitled to inherit your estate are not known, the services of a genealogist may be required to determine who is and how much those relatives are entitled to. This can be both costly and time consuming.

Why is it important to make a Will?

If you are happy with how your estate will be distributed under the intestacy rules then you may not need a Will. However, if you wish to include your partner, friends, charities or some of your relatives who may not be entitled upon intestacy to inherit some or all of your estate whilst at the same time wish to exclude other relatives who may inherit under intestacy, it is important to make a Will that meets your wishes.

A Will can also help with tax planning or for example, be written in a way to protect your estate from spendthrift beneficiaries or care fees.

Having a valid Will is the best way to ensure you determine who will inherit your estate upon your death so that the people and/or charities you consider important to you are the ones benefiting from your estate.

It is important to seek proper legal advice before making a Will or updating an existing one. There are many factors  to consider which you may not necessarily think of if writing your own Will.

The Private Client Department at Judge & Priestley have a team of professional and friendly lawyers who will discuss your circumstances in detail, guide and advise you to ensure you make a valid Will.