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Selling a house after someone you know has died can be tremendously stressful and upsetting, especially if they haven't left a legal will behind.

Luckily, In England and Wales, laws protect surviving relatives when someone dies without leaving a valid will, which is called the Rules of Intestacy. These rules help equally distribute the estate and property of the deceased to all surviving close and extended families.

Much like the probate property process, there can often be much confusion about how the process works, so in this article, we will cover what Intestacy is, who can inherit under the rules and how you can sell the inherited property.

What is intestacy?

Dying Intestate is when someone dies without putting a will in place. Sorting out the deceased person's property or estate is slightly more complicated than usual.

There are laws called the Intestacy Rules which work out who inherits the property following specific criteria.

If you are a relative or friend of the deceased and are willing to sort the estate, you can apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration (Grant of Probate), making you the estate administrator.

Being the estate administrator, you will be able to value the property, pay any debts and distribute the estate according to the Rules of Intestacy.

What is an estate?

An estate is money and property owned by a particular person. In this context, the deceased's estate is all their property and possessions, which surviving family members can inherit.

What is partial intestacy?

If someone dies and has a will in place but does not cover the entire estate, this is known as a Partial Intestacy. The estate encountered on the will is divided as suggested, but the remainder is subject to the Rules of Intestacy.

Who can inherit under rules of intestacy?

Under the Rules of Intestacy, you can only inherit if you are married or have civil partners with the deceased.

If the deceased has made a will, but it is not legally valid, then the Rules of Intestacy will decide how the estate will be distributed and not the wishes expressed in the will.

Can intestacy be contested?

Unless you are family with the deceased, you cannot challenge Intestacy. You can claim the Inheritance (Provisions for Family and Dependants) Act if you are a family.

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What are the rules of intestacy for spouse or civil partners?

The Rules Of Intestacy for spouses or civil partners will change depending on whether there are surviving children, the type of property ownership, and the estate valuation.

Intestacy rules for married partners and civil partners

You may only inherit under the Rules of Intestacy if you are married or in a civil partnership with the deceased at their death. You can still inherit the estate if you have separated but are not legally divorced.

Rules of intestacy with surviving children?

If the estate is worth more than £270,000 and there are surviving children or grandchildren, then you will inherit the following:

  • All personal property of the deceased.

  • The first £270,000 and half of the remaining estate.

Rules of intestacy without surviving children?

If there were no surviving children or grandchildren, then you would inherit the following:

  • All personal property of the deceased.

  • The whole of the estate with interest from the date of death.

You can't inherit under the Intestacy Rules if divorced or legally ended.

And, if you were living with your partner but not legally married or in a civil partnership, then you can't inherit under the Intestacy Rules — this is also known as Cohabiting Partners.

Intestacy rules for jointly owned property

If you were in a relationship with someone recently deceased and jointly owned your home, then you may be able to receive an inheritance.

If you were beneficial joint tenants with the deceased at the time of death, you will automatically inherit your other half's property.

However, if you are tenants in common, you will not automatically inherit the other person's share of the property.

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What are intestacy rules for other family members?

Close relatives include immediate family members (other than your partner), like children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It also has other close relatives like nephews and nieces of the deceased.

Rules of intestacy for children

Children who are unmarried, not in a civil partnership or under 18 cannot receive their inheritance immediately; instead, trustees must manage the estate on their behalf.

What if there are no surviving parents?

If there is no surviving parent, the children will inherit all the estates, and the amount will be divided equally between the number of children.

The children could inherit from the estate if the parents were married or not in a civil partnership. These children can also inherit from grandparents who may have died in Intestate.

Children must prove they are biologically related to the deceased except for legally adopted children, who can also inherit under the rules of Intestacy.

How does the intestacy rules apply to children with surviving parents?

If there is a surviving parent, the children will only inherit if the estate is valued over £270,000, and they will only inherit half of the value over £270,000.

The Rules of Intestacy for Children will also apply when a parent has children from different relationships.

How can grandchildren and great-grandchildren inherit under the intestacy rules?

Grandchildren and Great-Grandchildren could not inherit under the rules of Intestacy unless the parent or grandparent died before the intestate person. Or, the parent is alive when the intestate person dies, but they died before age 18 without being married or in a civil partnership.

If either of these criteria is met, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren will inherit equal shares to which their parents or grandparents would be entitled.

Rules of intestacy for other close family

Parents, siblings and niblings of the intestate person may inherit under the rules of Intestacy but will depend if there is a surviving partner, whether there are no children, the amount left on the estate and for niblings, if the parent was directly related to the person who has died is also dead.

Who else can inherit under the intestacy rules?

Grandparents, uncles and aunts, and half-extended family can also inherit under the intestacy rules but only if there is no surviving spouse, children, parents, siblings or niblings.

There is a hierarchy to who can inherit:

  1. Grandparents.

  2. Uncles, Aunts and Cousins.

  3. Half-extended family.

Who can not inherit under the intestacy rules?

Unfortunately, some people are unable to inherit under the Intestacy Rules; they are as follows:

  • Cohabiting Partners (unmarried).

  • Family relations by marriage (in-laws).

  • Close friends.

  • Carers.

If you fall into any of these categories, you can still apply to the court for financial provision from the estate instead of inheritance.

What if there are no surviving relatives?

When there are no surviving relatives, the estate is passed to the Crown, known as Bona Vacantia.

The HM Treasury Solicitor is then made responsible for the estate, and the Crown may make grants from the estate but doesn't have to agree with them.

You can apply for grants if you take legal advice, even if you are not a relative.

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How do you deal with an estate under intestacy rules?

Sorting an estate under Intestacy Rules can be tricky, especially when dealing with complicated family history or relationships.

We recommend sourcing a solicitor or accountant specialising in probate, as they will streamline the process.

Alternatively, you can decide to sort the estate yourself by following probate — we would recommend hiring a solicitor to ensure that all applications are still legal.

How do you sell a house you inherited?

If you are a beneficiary of the estate, you can either live in the property, let it out or sell it. The probate process can take around a year, so it is vital that you find a quick way to sell the inherited property at the end.

Selling a probate property with an estate agent can take six months, but we will buy your property in as little as seven days!

Our team of property experts have over 50 years of combined experience and is well-stocked in probate property knowledge. We can help guide you through the probate process and deal with any solicitors.

We'll buy your inherited property fast, cover all the legal costs and help you clear the house before selling it if this is a service you require.

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Tom Condon

Tom Condon, one of our content writers, has fascinating expertise in sustainability in the property industry. Tom thoroughly understands the market and has experience in both residential and commercial property. He enjoys attending conferences and staying current with the most recent property trends.