What happens to a deceased person's money and possessions? (2023)

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  • Introduction
  • Money in the bank, insurance policies andsavings
  • Occupational and personalpensions
  • The legal right share
  • What happens when there is nowill?


When a person dies, their property passes to their personal representative. Thepersonal representative then distributes the deceased's person’s assets(money, possessions and property) in accordance with the will - if there is one- or the laws of intestacy if there is no will. These assets are described asthe deceased person’s estate.

Here you can read about the law on what happens to the estate where a personhas left a will, or died without leaving a will (died intestate).

The personal representative is known as:

  • The executor where there is a will
  • The administrator where there is no will, no executor appointed in the will, or the executor cannot or will not carry out their duties

Our document, Dealingwith the deceased person’s money and possessions explains what thepersonal representative has to do with the estate.

If the person who has died left a valid will, the personal representativewill distribute the deceased person’s assets according to their wishes. Youcan read about how to make avalid will.

Money in the bank, insurance policies andsavings

If money is held in the deceased person’s name only, then family membersusually cannot get access until probate is granted to the personalrepresentative.

But if the amount in an account is small, the bank may release it to thepersonal representative or the next of kin.

Bank accounts in joint names

If the bank account is in the joint names of the deceased and the deceased'sspouse or civil partner, the money can usually be transferred into thesurvivor's name. You will need the death certificate to do this.

If the bank account is in the joint names of the deceased person and someoneelse, and the bank was given instructions when the account was opened that theother person was to receive the money on the death of the deceased, the moneycan be transferred into the survivor's name.

If there is an account with more than €50,000, you will also need a letterof clearance from Revenue allowing the money to be transferred to thesurviving account holder's name pending investigations about CAT liability.

Spouses and civil partners are not liable for CapitalAcquisitions Tax (CAT) on inheritances from each other.

Where the bank has no instructions, the intentions of the deceased personwill have to be examined (for example, by referring to their will)

Credit union accounts

If the deceased person had a credit union account and completed a validNomination Form when opening the account, the money in the account - up to amaximum of €23,000 - goes to the person or persons nominated on the form. Anyremaining balance forms part of the deceased's estate and is distributed inaccordance with the will or succession law if there is no will.

Occupational and personalpensions

The rules governing occupational and personal pensions depend on the termsof the pension. If the deceased person was a member of a pension scheme, youshould contact the scheme administrators to find out if there is a pension forthe spouse, civil partner and/or children. Self-employed people may havepension arrangements that involve some of the investments becoming part of thedeceased's estate.

Divorced people and those whose civil partnership has been dissolved mayhave access to some part of the pension scheme depending on whether or not a pensionadjustment order was made at the time of the divorce or dissolution.

The legal right share

If you have left a will, and your spouse or civil partner has neverrenounced or given up their rights to your estate, then they are entitled to alegal right share of your estate. This legal right share is:

  • One-half of your estate if you do not have children
  • One-third of your estate if you do have children

Your spouse/civil partner does not have to go to court to get this share, asyour executor must give this share where applicable. If you leave a gift toyour spouse or civil partner in your will, they can choose to accept the giftinstead of their legal right share, or they can insist on their legal rightshare (the specific gift can form part of the legal right share, but if it isless then your spouse can request more from the estate).

Your executor must inform your spouse or civil partner in writing of theirright to choose between these two options. Your spouse or civil partner mustask for their legal right share within 6 months of being notified, or within 12months of the taking out of the Grant of Representation.

Where a legal right share does not apply

Your spouse or civil partner can renounce (give up) their rights to thelegal right share. This can be part of an agreement before marriage or civilpartnership or the spouse or civil partner can give up their rights to benefittheir children or other named beneficiaries.

If there is evidence of undue influence or evidence that the spouse or civilpartner did not understand what they were doing, the renunciation may bechallenged. It is normally advised that a spouse or civil partner getindependent legal advice if renouncing their legal right share.

The legal right share can be lost where the spouse or civil partner is:

  • Convicted of the murder, manslaughter or attempted murder of the deceased person
  • Convicted of an offence against the deceased person or a child that carries a sentence of more than 2 years

Divorce, separation and desertion

Separation agreements usually include a renunciation of both spouses’ orcivil partner’s legal right share.

If you are divorced or your civil partnership was dissolved, you do not haveto provide a legal right share.

If your spouse or civil partner deserted you for more than 2 years, they arenot entitled to a legal right share unless they deserted you as a result ofyour behaviour (for example, domestic abuse).

Cohabiting partners

Partners, who live with each other but are not married or in a civilpartnership, have no automatic legal right to each other's estates, althoughunder the redressscheme for cohabiting couples introduced by the CivilPartnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 aqualified cohabitant can apply for a share of the estate of a deceasedcohabitant.

You can leave some or all of your estate to your partner but this does notcancel out the legal rights of a spouse or civil partner if you were marriedbefore to someone else and did not get divorced or had your civil partnershipdissolved.

Rights of children under a will

Children do not have any absolute right to inherit any of their parent'sestate if the parent has made a will. Children born inside or outside marriageand adopted children all have the same rights and there are no agerestrictions.

However, a child can apply to court if they feel that they have not beenprovided for. An application must be made within 6 months of the taking out ofa Grant of Representation. The court then has to decide if the parent hasfailed in their duty to the child in accordance with the needs of thatchild.

Each case is considered individually, but it is important to remember thatthe legal right share of the spouse cannot be reduced to give the child agreater share of the estate. It can, however, reduce the entitlement of a civilpartner.

The family or shared home

The surviving spouse or civil partner may ask to keep the family or sharedhome instead of their legal right share, although if the house is worth morethan the legal right share, the spouse or civil partner may have to pay thedifference into the deceased's estate. A court may decide that this sum doesnot have to be paid if it would cause undue hardship

What happens when there is nowill?

If you die without leaving a will, then your estate will be distributed inaccordance with the law of succession.

This also happens:

  • When the will is not valid because it was not made properly
  • When a legal challenge to the validity of the will has been successful

The law of succession also applies to assets which are not covered by a willsuch as where there is no residuary clause

The order in which your estate is distributed in these cases is set out inthe SuccessionAct 1965.

If you are survived by:

  • A spouse or civil partner but no children (or grandchildren): your spouse or civil partner gets the entire estate.
  • A spouse or civil partner and children: your spouse/civil partner gets two-thirds of your estate and the remaining one-third is divided equally among your children. If one of your children has died, that share goes to his/her children.
  • Children, but no spouse or civil partner: your estate is divided equally among your children (or their children).
  • Parents, but no spouse, civil partner or children: your estate is divided equally between your parents or given entirely to one parent if only one is living.
  • Brothers and sisters only: your estate is shared equally among them, with the children of a deceased brother or sister taking his/her share.
  • Nieces and nephews only: your estate is divided equally among those surviving.
  • Other relatives only: your estate is divided equally between the nearest equal relations.
  • No relatives: your estate goes to the State.

Page edited: 15 August 2022

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  • Living together and marriage: what are the legal differences?

    If your relationship ends, your rights can depend on whether you and your partner are married or not. Find out more.

Contact Us

If you have a question about this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0818 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm).

You can also contact your local Citizens Information Centre.

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