What does intestacy mean? (A Practical Guide!)

Everyone has heard lawyers at New Year saying your resolution should be to make or review a Will, and my colleague Richard Stone recently wrote a very informative article on this subject

What if this hasn’t happened and a person dies without leaving a Will? This is what lawyers call “intestacy“. But what does it mean in practice?

Who inherits on intestacy? 

You’ve probably heard scare stories about the government “getting all your money if you die intestate.” This is actually very rare. The law sets out a precise order of relatives who inherit in the case of intestacy. Husband/wife/civil partner first, then children, if none then parents and so on. You can see the full order here on the Government’s website. So although it’s unlikely that the state would receive your estate, these intestacy arrangements might not be the most tax efficient way to distribute your estate, or they might not be fair to your family in your particular circumstances. For example an unmarried partner may receive nothing or an already wealthy relative may inherit leaving out others in need. 

Will there be a dispute? 

Intestacy makes it much more likely that a disappointed relative or dependant might bring a claim against the estate. This can be complicated and costly and is a really good reason to take advice on making a Will, or early advice if someone dies without a Will. 

Can the intestacy rules be altered? 

Yes - distribution of an intestate estate can be legally altered by using an “Instrument of Variation” (more often referred to as a “Deed of Variation”) either following an order from the Court or by agreement between the people concerned. It’s important that these documents are drafted correctly for tax and other reasons. 

How long does this all take? 

A Will appoints Executors to look after your estate and wind up your affairs. The Executors have legal authority and power to act from the moment of death, and this power stems from the Will itself.  This means that the Executors can start straight away to sort matters out - arranging a funeral, insuring a property or obtaining information about estate assets. 

This is not necessarily the case with intestacy. Until the Court has issued a Grant of Letters Of Administration to the Personal Representatives (usually the people who inherit, but not always) there is nobody with true legal responsibility for the estate. This can potentially leave a legal void if there is no immediate family who can step forward and look after matters and could lead to delay and increased risks and costs for the estate. 

If you need further advice or guidance on making a Will, drafting a Deed of Variation, applying for a Grant of Letters of Administration or any other question relating to intestacy give Talbots Law a call. We have a specialist Trusts and Estates team who are approachable and keen to assist with practical advice and solutions.  Call us now on 0800 118 1500 or email Sue Howard  directly.