When a person dies without leaving a Will, their estate must be distributed in accordance with the intestacy rules (contained within the Administration of Estates Act 1925). This has often led to people having to contest a will.
Who will receive the estate if intestacy rules apply?
It essentially comes down to who is the closest relative who survived the Deceased.
Whilst the intestacy rules cover many different categories of people, such as spouses, civil partners and children, and even goes so far as half-aunts and half-uncles, there are some key relationships which are overlooked entirely – for example, cohabitees and stepchildren. If you fall within these groups, you will not inherit under the intestacy rules, regardless of how good a relationship you had with the Deceased.
What can you do if you are a cohabitee or a stepchild and the Deceased has not made a Will?
There are a few options to consider. These include contacting the beneficiaries of the estate, explaining what has happened and asking if they will agree to you receiving a share of the estate. If they agree, you should ask them to formalise the arrangement by asking for a signed Deed of Gift or Deed of Variation. This is the quickest and cheapest way to resolve matters but it will only be a way forward if all interested parties are in agreement to proceed on this basis. If you cannot obtain the agreement from all required parties, unfortunately, this would not be an option for you.
Inheritance Act Claims
An alternative approach may be a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. This is a claim where you argue the application of the intestacy rules is not such as to make reasonable financial provision for you. Cohabitees are eligible to bring a claim under the Act if they were either:
- Cohabiting with the Deceased for a period of 2 years ending in the death; and/or
- Being maintained by them immediately before death.
Stepchildren are also eligible applicants under the Act if they were treated as a “child of the family” by the Deceased acting in a parental role.
These claims are very fact specific and can be highly contentious. It is always advisable to take legal advice quickly to see whether you are eligible to bring a claim and to ensure your interests are protected.