When a person dies without leaving a Will, they are said to have died ‘Intestate. ’ If they had assets when they died then those assets will be distributed under the rules of Intestacy.
You can have a partial intestacy or a full intestacy.
A partial intestacy is where a Will is left by the deceased but the inheritance of some of the deceased’s assets have not been dealt with under the Will. Those assets must then pass under Intestacy laws. This can happen, for example, where a gift in a Will fails or an asset or beneficiary referred to in a Will is not clear.
This is where a person dies without leaving a Will or the Will they have made is not considered not to be valid.
The HM Revenue and Customs website provides a vast amount of information on Intestacy Rules and how they are applied.
Distributing an Estate under Intestacy Rules can be very complicated and can involve lengthy procedures. Most importantly, your assets will be distributed in a way that is beyond your control and may be against your wishes.
Potential Problems when dealing with an Intestacy:
1. Appointing Administrators
Administrators must be appointed to administer the Estate - usually the spouse or other close family members. (There is a strict order of potential Administrators who are mainly the deceased’s relatives that must be followed on an Intestacy) . If any of these people do not wish to be appointed as an Administrator they must renounce the position and the next person in the ‘pecking order’ can take on the role. Where there is a valid Will the deceased will have appointed the ‘Executors’( equivalent of Administrators where there is an intestacy) of the Will so you will not have the problem of reluctant or unwilling Administrators forced to do the job!
2. No control over who your assets pass to
Assets may pass to beneficiaries under the Intestacy Rules who the deceased may not have wanted to include as those inheriting from his Estate.
3. Locating Assets
If the deceased had a number of assets it can be a lengthy exercise collating all the required information and locating the deceased’s assets.
4. Locating Relatives
If certain relatives are required to be Administrators of the Estate, they must be located. Similarly, if certain family members are to inherit under the Intestacy Rules they must be found. You do not have this problem with a Will since all beneficiaries will be clearly stated and it is usual for their addresses to be included.
5. Delay in final Distribution of the Assets
On an intestacy, it can take months if not years to finalise the estate and distribute the assets and this is because there is far more work involved than in a normal Grant of Probate where there is a valid Will. This means that your spouse or children who may be in great need of financial support may have to wait a substantial amount of time for assets and funds to be released.
6. Only family can inherit under the Intestacy Rules
Your friends or charities cannot inherit your Estate under Intestacy rules. If there are no family members then the Estate goes to the Crown, the Duchy of Lancaster or the Duke of Cornwall.
To avoid your Estate passing under the Rules of Intestacy it is vital that a Will is prepared as soon as possible and that it is drafted carefully so as to avoid a partial intestacy. If you already have a Will it is advisable to revise it every so often to ensure it is an up to date reflection of your assets and your wishes.