When a person dies without leaving a Will, they are described as having died intestate.
In England and Wales, there is a statutory set of rules which apply if you die intestate (the rules are different in Scotland). Your estate would be divided according to this fixed set of rules, irrespective of what your intentions actually were.
If you die intestate, your spouse or civil partner will not automatically receive all of your estate.
If you have children, grandchildren or great grandchildren your spouse or civil partner will receive your personal possessions, the first £250,000 together with half of the rest of the estate. The other half of the estate will go to your children. If your estate is worth £250,000 or less your children will not receive anything. If you’re not married or in a civil partnership, or you have divorced or ended your civil partnership, your children will inherit all of your estate. If, however, you are separated but are still married or in a civil partnership, your spouse or civil partner may inherit, even though you no longer live together.
If you have no children, grandchildren or great grandchildren your spouse or civil partner will receive your personal possessions together with the rest of your estate.
Under the rules of intestacy, all of your children are treated equally. Children from all relationships and legally adopted children will receive equal shares of your estate. Step-children are not treated as your children and therefore will not receive anything irrespective of your relationship with them. They will however be treated as your children if you have legally adopted them. Your children will receive their inheritance when they reach the age of 18 or marry or enter into a civil partnership before they become 18.
If you hold any assets jointly, they will not form part of your estate and therefore will not be subject to the intestacy rules.