Ellen Eley

+44 (0)1223 785288 eleley@greenwoodsgrm.co.uk

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Do you understand the rules of intestacy?

Wealth Preservation / 02 September 2021

Every once in a while, being a private client lawyer becomes a little like being an heir hunter!

There are often cases in the press of estates that have passed to the Crown or where a family benefit from the estate of an unknown family member when someone has died without either a Will or known family.

You may not be aware that if an estate remains unclaimed after thirty years, it becomes the permanent property of the Crown. The thought that the Crown may inherit your estate may seem implausible; however, this can and does happen. A list of unclaimed estates is held by the government’s Bona Vacantia Division and is updated daily.  At the time of writing, there were 7,302 unclaimed estates on the list with deaths dating back to 1991. The marital status shown indicates these are estates of people who have either never married or are widowed.

You may have seen reports earlier this year that a family had inherited a share of their uncle’s estate after he died without a Will and with no known next of kin. It is likely that the local authority instructed a genealogy expert to help trace relatives, to ensure that the deceased’s estate passed to the correct beneficiaries under the intestacy rules. These rules can be a minefield if the deceased does not leave a spouse, children or siblings. In this particular case, thirty beneficiaries were traced!

Although administering an estate such as the one reported can be fascinating, it can also be very costly and time-consuming. When so many beneficiaries are involved in an estate a simple task can become quite an undertaking if it has to be repeated thirty times.

Whilst some may find the thought of being a beneficiary to an unknown estate exciting, it does reiterate the importance of making a Will. The intestacy rules do not work in the way most people assume they do. Without a Will in place, there is a possibility that your estate will end up with the Crown.

We are always encouraging people to make a Will and this example highlights just some of the issues which can occur if you die without a Will in place. It is particularly important for people who do not have immediate family and may not wish for their assets to pass in accordance with the intestacy rules, nor wish for the administrative expense to their hard-earned estate of identifying and tracing far-flung potential beneficiaries.


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This update is for general purposes and guidance only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. You should seek legal advice before relying on its content. This update relates to the prevailing circumstances at the date of its original publication and may not have been updated to reflect subsequent developments. If you have general queries about our updates, please email: mailinglists@greenwoodsgrm.co.uk

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