If a person dies without a Will, or valid Will, they are referred to in law as having died “intestate”.  Under the rules of Intestacy, the law sets out firstly who has the power to take charge of the deceased’s assets, and secondly who is entitled to receive them by way of inheritance.

Who should take charge of the assets of a person who dies intestate?

A deceased person’s assets are known as their “estate”.  If a person dies without making a Will, their estate will still need to be administered.   Usually a close relative like a spouse, child or parent will have the legal right to sort out the estate of the person who has died.

This person can apply to the Probate Office of the High Court for a document known as a ‘Grant of Letters of Administration’.  This document confirms the person legally authorised to administer and distribute the estate.

The Grant is generally needed to close bank and building society accounts, encash or transfer other financial investments and ownership of property, however a Grant may not be required if the estate is under £10,000.00 and meets certain conditions, or if all of the estate is held in joint names.

If inheritance tax is due on the deceased’s estate, normally this must be paid before the Grant of Administration can be applied for.

Who should inherit if there is no Will?

Once the extent of the deceased’s estate is known and any tax liabilities and debts paid, the assets will be distributed in accordance with strict rules set down in law.

In broad terms, the next of kin are entitled to the estate in an order of priority, depending on the value of the estate.

A spouse or civil partner has priority on the first £250,000, with the deceased’s children becoming entitled to share in the value of any estate over and above that figure.  It often comes as a surprise that the spouse or civil partner of the deceased will not inherit everything.   

It is important to be aware that a ‘common law’ wife or husband, now more commonly referred to as an unmarried partner, has no legal right to share in the estate of their partner.

Can I challenge the rules under Intestacy?

If you feel you should have been provided for after a death, whether on intestacy or where there is a Will, you may be able to make an application under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) (Northern Ireland) Order 1979, asking that the distribution of the estate be changed.

However, the outcome of such an application is never certain.  Do not delay in taking legal advice as strict time limits apply.

Intestate estates can be complicated and take many months, if not years, to resolve. Should you require advice or guidance then please contact us on lj@fhanna.co.uk or by telephoning 028 9024 3901