If a person dies without a will, the courts will declare that they have died “intestate” – with specific rules for cases of intestacy that are different to those that apply when an individual passes away with a will in place.

The rules of intestacy can make it harder for individuals to claim their fair share of an estate and will mean the deceased has no input in how their assets are distributed among beneficiaries. That’s why it is important to understand exactly what intestacy entails and how it can affect the distribution of your assets in the future.

How is a deceased’s estate managed in a case of intestacy?

Will-makers will appoint an executor as part of the process of writing this document, who is then responsible for collecting and distributing the assets of the estate. In a case of intestacy, one of the deceased’s relatives or acquaintances will be required to apply for letters of administration, allowing them to fill the same role as an executor would.

This application will include a number of affidavits detailing the deceased’s living arrangements, their relatives who are eligible to receive a share of the estate and their assets and liabilities, among others.

How are assets distributed without a will?

The assets of an estate in a case of intestacy will be distributed depending on the ownership status when the deceased was alive. Jointly held property, for example, will transfer to the other co-owner – this commonly happens with a family home that is shared by a couple. These assets will therefore not be considered part of the deceased’s estate.

The exact distribution of the estate will also depend on whether the deceased had a partner and any issue (children or grandchildren for example). The estate is then distributed based on how many people are eligible in each category. Other relatives and those who are financially dependent on the deceased can also receive a share of the estate in certain circumstances.

For those who haven’t written a will yet and want to clarify where their assets will go once they pass away, contacting a wills and estates lawyer is the first step.