In 2013 the Government introduced the Inheritance and Trustees’ Powers Bill into the House of Lords. It reached the committee stage in March 2014. This will, when passed into law, reform the laws of intestacy (i.e. the rules that apply when a person dies without leaving a will) and will allow the spouse of a person who dies childless to inherit the entire estate and will enhance the rights of adoptive and illegitimate children.
The current (November 2013) position is as below.
The levels of statutory legacy (the amount that surviving spouses or civil partners are allowed to inherit if their spouse/civil partner dies without leaving a will) were increased from 1 February 2009 to the following:
• £250,000 (from £125,000) where there is a surviving spouse or civil partner and children.
• £450,000 (from £200,000) where there is a surviving spouse or civil partner and parents or siblings, but no children.
Statutory Limits - When they Apply
The statutory limits only apply when the estate exceeds the minimum. For smaller estates, the spouse or civil partner will inherit the entire estate. Where the intestate estate exceeds the limit, the rules are as follows –
1. If there is a husband, wife or civil partner, and children:
• The spouse/partner gets the personal chattels, the first £125,000 (£250,000 after 1 February 2009) and a life interest in half of what is left
• The children of the deceased, including illegitimate and adopted children, share between them half what is left straight away, if they are 18 or over; and the other half when the surviving parent dies.
2. If there is a husband, wife or civil partner, and relatives but no children:
• The husband or wife gets the personal chattels, the first £200,000 (£450,000 after 1 February 2009) and half what is left.
• The parents of the dead person, or if they have died, the brothers and sisters or their descendants, share the other half of what is left.
3. If there is a surviving husband, wife or civil partner, but no other relatives, the surviving spouse/partner gets everything.
4. If there are children, but no living husband, wife or civil partner, the children share everything equally.
5. If there is no husband, wife, civil partner or children, everything goes to the next available group of relatives.
6. If there are no available relatives, the entire estate goes to the Crown.
For fuller information, see the Directgov website pages on death and intestacy.