It’s estimated up to 50% of people in NSW either don’t have a will or don’t have a valid will, meaning that should they die unexpectedly, they will be considered intestate and their estates distributed to surviving family members under the rules of the Succession Act 2006 (NSW).
This is not ideal. Most people would like to know that whatever they leave behind after their death – property, shares, heirlooms and other assets – will be distributed to loved ones in accordance with their wishes rather than the provisions of a government act, but this is not possible if they didn’t get around to making a will.
This article provides a basic outline of how an estate is divided in the event of a loved one dying without a valid will.
Who can inherit a deceased’s estate without a will in place?
There is a hierarchy of next-of-kin who stand to inherit a deceased’s estate in the event of intestacy. It begins with a spouse and then, where there is no spouse, the deceased’s children and grandchildren, parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and finally, the state (where a person dies with no living relatives).
Where a person dies with a spouse but no children, the spouse may be entitled to the whole estate of the deceased. If the deceased leaves both a spouse and children behind, and the children are the children of the spouse, it is the spouse who may be entitled to the whole estate. If the children are not the children of the spouse, the spouse may be entitled to: the personal effects of the deceased; a statutory amount, adjusted for CPI plus interest; and one half of any remainder.
In the event that the deceased had multiple spouses, various other considerations will come into play as to how the estate will be distributed and expert legal advice should be sought.
Under the NSW law, a spouse is defined as the person the deceased was married to immediately before their death, or was in a ‘domestic partnership’ with. This latter relationship can include de facto relationships or an interstate relationship that is registered. For de facto relationships, the relationship must have been for a continuous period of two years or resulted in the birth of a child.
It should be noted that if the deceased owned property with someone else as a joint tenant, then that person will inherit the entire property.
What is the process when there is no will?
For an intestate person’s assets to be distributed when they die without a will, someone needs to be appointed as an ‘estate administrator’, who will take on the responsibility of distributing the estate in line with the intestacy rules.
Often the administrator will be a lawyer, a financial planner or someone else trusted by the deceased (where possible), who needs to apply for a grant of administration from the court. This grant will allow them to reconcile matters related to the deceased’s estate – such as any unpaid debts, taxes, funeral expenses, etc – by withdrawing the deceased’s funds, before distributing what remains of the estate.
In simpler cases where the deceased left few assets and has a single spouse to inherit his or her estate, a grant of administration will not always be needed. The same applies if those likely to inherit from the estate can come to agreement on how best to distribute the assets.
Applying for a grant of administration can be time-consuming, involving a lot of paperwork and background research in order for the deceased’s estate to be properly distributed.
For this reason it is recommended to seek the guidance of legal professionals with a background in wills, estates and intestacy, such as the experts at Felicio Law Firm. Call us today on (02) 4365 4249.