When someone dies, their property (known as their estate) passes to the people they name as beneficiaries in their will.
If there is no will, the law sets out who is entitled to inherit using what is called the intestacy rules. This is basically a list of family members, ranked by the closeness of their relationship to the deceased.
Should a partner, spouse, child or someone else who has been dependent financially on the deceased receive little or nothing from the estate, it may be possible to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
A claim using this act may also be made if one half of a marriage or civil partnership dies during divorce or dissolution proceedings without having concluded a financial settlement.
An unmarried partner is not classed as next of kin under the intestacy rules and has no automatic right to inherit. In order to bring a claim, the survivor has to demonstrate they lived with the deceased as man and wife or civil partners during the entire two years prior to the death. They also have to prove a “substantial contribution” was made towards their reasonable needs.
The court has wide discretion when making any orders under the Inheritance Act. It has to balance the financial needs and obligations of dependents and beneficiaries of the will or intestacy, taking into account:
- the size and nature of the estate,
- any physical or mental disabilities of the person making the claim
- if appropriate, the conduct of the person making the claim
- any other matters the court may consider relevant
Please note a claim under the Inheritance Act 1975 is not the same as contesting a will. If you would like to know more about this issue, please contact our wills and probate department.