What Is A Statutory Legacy?

sarah ryan
Sarah RyanAccount Manager @ Lawhive & Non-Practising Solicitor
Updated on 22nd January 2024

When someone dies without a valid will, it’s called ‘dying intestate.’ In these cases, the law decides who inherits the deceased person’s assets. If you die intestate and leave a surviving spouse or civil partner and children, something called statutory legacy comes into play.

statutory-legacy

What is a statutory legacy? 

Statutory legacy is a fixed sum given to the surviving spouse or civil partner before the rest of an estate is divided. The idea behind a statutory legacy is that it ensures a fair distribution of assets upon someone’s death while prioritising support for the surviving spouse. 

From July 27th 2023, the statutory legacy in England and Wales increased from £270,000 to £320,000. 

This means if you die without a will, your surviving spouse or civil partner automatically inherits the first £322,000 worth of your assets, your household contents and personal possessions, and 50% of any remaining assets. 

The other 50% is then shared equally between your biological children, regardless of their age.

Statutory legacy does not apply to cohabiting partners or ‘common law’ spouses. This is because these statuses aren’t recognised in English law. The only beneficiaries of statutory legacy are those outlined in the Rules of Intestacy, which generally prioritise a person’s spouse or civil partner, followed by their children, and then other more distant family members. 

Statutory legacy examples

Statutory legacy when married with children

Alex and Joan are married with two children. Alex passes away but doesn’t have a will. His estate is valued at £500,000. Because of Statutory Legacy, Joan gets the first £322,000 outright from the estate. The remaining £178,000 is split between Joan and their children. Therefore, Joan gets a further £89,000 and their children each receive £44,500.

While none of Joan’s share will be considered for inheritance tax, the children’s share may be.

Statutory legacy when cohabiting with children 

Tim and Shauna live together but aren’t married. They have 2 children. Tim dies suddenly without a will. His estate is valued at £400,000. In this situation, unlike married couples, there’s no automatic Statutory Legacy for cohabiting couples, as such Shauna doesn’t inherit any of Tim’s money or assets. Instead, the estate is distributed based on the rules of intestacy and goes to their children, and they may have to pay inheritance tax. 

Statutory legacy when married with no children 

Charlotte and Adam are married with no children. Charlotte dies suddenly without making a will, leaving behind an estate worth £850,000. 

Due to statutory legacy, Adam receives the whole estate of which no inheritance tax needs to be paid. 

Can you change how an estate is distributed when statutory legacy applies? 

Yes, it’s possible to change how an estate is distributed after death, even without a will, as long as all beneficiaries agree. This change can be made through a Deed of Variation. 

However, if all beneficiaries don’t agree to alter the distribution, they can’t be forced to give up their share, regardless of the situation. In such cases, an eligible person may be able to seek provision from the Estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family Dependents) Act 1975. If successful, this claim can override the rules of intestacy and make provision for them, but it’s not guaranteed. 

Statutory legacy and the importance of making a will 

Believing common myths about wills and inheritance might lead people to avoid making a will. However, not having one or neglecting to update it can cause numerous problems.

Without a will, your loved ones, especially if you are unmarried, might not be provided for. On the other hand, the rules of intestacy and statutory legacy could benefit someone you wouldn't want to inherit your estate.

There's also the possibility of additional Inheritance Tax or a loved one, like an unmarried partner, facing a lengthy and costly battle to seek provision during an already stressful time.

All these issues and potential disputes can be easily avoided by making a will and keeping it updated. If you need more information on wills, trusts, and probate matters, our solicitors can provide expert help at fixed fees.

Contact our legal assessment team for a free case assessment and a quote for the services of our expert solicitors.

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