Property will be shared out according to the rules of ‘intestacy’ (if someone dies without a will they die ‘intestate’). Only people who are married, civil partners or some close relatives can inherit under those rules. Similarly, if you make a will but it is not legally valid, the rules of intestacy might apply.
You don’t inherit anything under the intestacy rules if you are divorced or your civil partnership is dissolved. If you are married or a civil partner at the time of the death of your partner you inherit under the intestacy rules. If your partner has surviving children, grandchildren or great grandchildren and the estate is valued at more than £250,000, you will inherit:
- all the personal property and belongings of your partner; plus
- the first £250,000 of the estate; and
- a life interest in half of the remaining estate. This means that if you are entitled to the life interest, you cannot get rid of or spend that part of the estate. You can, however, have the benefit of it during your lifetime.
As to what happens to your home, it depends on how it is owned. There are two different ways of jointly owning a home: joint tenancies and tenancies in common. If you and your partner were joint tenants at the time of the death, you will automatically inherit their share of the property. However, if you are tenants in common, you don’t automatically inherit their share.
If you have a joint bank or building society account, you automatically inherit the whole of the money. Property and money that you inherit because you are a joint tenant does not count as part of the estate of the person who has died when it is being valued for the intestacy rules.
Thanks very much to Punam Denley, a partner at the International Family Law Group LLP for reviewing and to David Hodson, also partner at the International Family Law Group LLP, who reviewed an earlier version which appeared in A Parent’s Guide to the Law by Jon Robins (LawPack , 2009). Stephen Lawson, a litigation partner at Forshaws Davies Ridgway LLP assisted with the section on the CSA.
Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon's books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council's journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year's Criminal Justice Alliance's journalism award