When someone dies without leaving a will, their estate must be distributed according to the rules of intestacy. Not only must all entitled beneficiaries be included in the distribution of assets, they must also all receive their fair share or ‘fractional entitlement’.

As an inbuilt part of our service, we always draw up an estate distribution schedule to ensure that each beneficiary receives the correct sum. We also offer free expert advice on estate distribution to solicitors and other practitioners.

Learn more about how to draw up an estate distribution schedule

Philip Turvey, executive director of probate genealogy firm Anglia ResearchDistributing assets in cases of intestacy should be straightforward, but you’d be surprised how many people calculate fractional entitlements incorrectly.

It is a common mistake for administrators to identify the correct beneficiaries in a family tree on both the maternal and paternal lines only to then divide the estate 50/50 between the maternal and paternal sides.

In fact, in the absence of closer kin, all full blood uncles and aunts are entitled to an equal share of the estate, as the graphic below illustrates. This shows the simple example of a widower, with no descendants or siblings, and whose parents have predeceased him. In this case, all the deceased’s uncle and aunts are still living, and each is entitled to a third of his estate.

Another common error is for personal representatives to distribute an estate in equal shares when the beneficiaries are not equally entitled.

How to get it right

Below you will find an example of a fictitious family with a diagram showing fractional entitlements.

Leslie Brown died intestate, a bachelor without issue. His parents Walter and Phyllis predeceased him, as did his two full-blood siblings, Frances and Sheila.

Both Frances and Sheila left surviving issue. If Frances and Sheila had survived Leslie, they would have inherited an equal share of his estate (half each). However, as they predeceased Leslie the share that would have been due to them is inherited by their children.

It’s important to remember that even if Frances and Sheila’s spouses were still living, they would not have entitlement. Intestate distribution follows the bloodline.

Frances had two children, Tom and Sarah, and each would receive an equal share of the half share that Frances would have received. That means that each would receive a quarter share of the estate.

However, Frances’ daughter Sarah also predeceased Leslie, but left surviving descendants. Consequently, the share she would have received (one quarter) is inherited by any children she had in equal shares. Sarah had four children – Peter, Barry, John and Louise – and they would therefore each receive a one quarter share of Frances’ quarter share of the whole estate (one sixteenth each).

Sheila had three children – Margaret, David and Sharon – so each of them would receive a third of Sheila’s half share (a sixth of the whole estate). However, Sheila’s son David predeceased Leslie so his two surviving children, Simon and Richard, are each entitled to a half share of their father’s one sixth share (one twelfth each).

Below you can see a diagram showing fractional entitlements associated with this fictitious family.

Checklist of things to consider prior to distribution

  • Use a free family verification service to ensure that all entitled beneficiaries are included in the distribution of assets.
  • Oversee the payment of all debts, taxes and estate administration expenses (where there is a possibility of unknown creditors, there are various steps that personal representatives can take to protect themselves from future litigation).
  • Bear in mind that when a beneficiary happens to be a child, any inheritance must be held in trust until they reach the age of 18.
  • Check that none of the beneficiaries are undischarged bankrupts.

For more information, help or advice, please contact us.