Inheritance law between siblings
Making a Will may feel like a rather morbid thing to do, but it acts as an essential safeguard for your belongings to not only be handed out to the people you want but also as a way of altering the tax burden.
If you don’t have a lot of worldly goods, or if you only have a small family, you may wonder whether there is much point to going to the trouble of making a Will, but unless you are happy for your loved ones to take their chances with the laws of intestacy, there are significant benefits.
Here’s a guide to what happens if you die without leaving a Will and in particular how an estate is handled between siblings.
Intestacy: the basics
If you die without leaving a Will, it is known as being Intestate and if that occurs, the UK has inheritance laws which specify who will receive what as part of the estate.
A common misconception is that if you die leaving a spouse or civil partner, if you do not make a Will, they will simply inherit everything. If your estate is worth less than £250,000 this is true. However, if your sole estate is valued at more – which if you owned property could easily be the case – your assets will be split out amongst the rest of the family too.
If you don’t have a civil partner or spouse, any long term partner will not be entitled to receive a penny of your estate, regardless of how long you may have been together. The only way to change this is by leaving a Will.
Intestacy laws set out the rules of inheritance in all situations, and this means including relatives you may not have seen for years such as aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents as well as siblings and half-siblings. The laws do not pay any attention to facts such as whether you had any regular contact with these members of the family; even if it is well-known that you had fallen out.
The rules of inheritance
If the estate is worth more than £250,000 and no Will has been left, depending on your individual circumstances, the rules of succession and inheritance can get rather complicated.
Here’s an outline of who gets what when the estate is valued at over £250,000 but there is no Will:
You are married/civil partners with no children, surviving parents, brothers or sisters (and they have no surviving offspring): your spouse inherits the whole estate.
You are married/civil partners with children: Your spouse receives the first £250,000 and a life interest in 50% of the remainder. The other 50% of the assets over £250,000 is given to the children immediately whilst the other 50% will follow when the spouse passes away.
If one of your children has predeceased you, their share is not split amongst their siblings (if any) but instead passes down to their children.
You are married/civil partners no children: The amount your spouse is entitled to receive increases to £450,000 in the absence of any children but any estate above this value will be split between the spouse and any surviving parents. Unlike the previous example, the 50% is not simply subject to a life interest but given to the spouse absolutely. The other 50% goes to the parents immediately.
If the parents are no longer alive, the 50% is split between any siblings who are related by whole blood ties. If they have predeceased them, their share once again passes to their children, or even further down the same line if necessary.
No spouse/civil partner but with children: your children inherit everything, with any share for those who have already died passing to their own children, not their siblings.
No spouse/civil partners or children: the estate follows the strict order of intestacy which means the inheritance is given the following priority: parents, siblings (or their children), half siblings (or their children), grandparents, aunts and uncles related by whole blood (or their children) and finally aunts and uncles related by half-blood (or their children).
As you can see from the above order of inheritance, it will take a while plus a considerable amount of money before any of your estate will reach your brothers or sisters if you pass away before them. Therefore if you want to look after them financially, or want to ensure they receive something in the event of your death, it is a very good idea to make a Will.
Your personal possessions will always pass to either your spouse or children first so if there was a particular item you wanted your brother or sister to have, unless they receive it as a gesture of goodwill, they will miss out without a Will in place.