Death of a family member is one of the most stressful situations in anyone’s life.  What to do?  How to live?  And finally – how to bury and deal with the beloved one’s things? Each family will be asking themselves such questions, often sooner than one would wish.  Matters can get complicated when one’s assets are located in two or more countries.   They get even more complicated when a person dies without leaving a will (i.e. “intestate”).

Both Polish and English law have a set of rules (“intestacy rules”) that will determine who gets what in such a situation.  Polish rules will apply to all assets located in Poland.  English rules will apply to everything located in the UK.

When a person dies married but with no children, in England the wife, husband or civil partner (for same sex couples) will inherit everything.  In Poland the spouse will get a half and the other half will go to parents, brothers and sisters of the deceased or their children (nieces and nephews of the deceased) if the brother or sister died earlier.

When a person dies married with children under English rules, the spouse will get all the personal property of the deceased husband or wife and the first £250,000 of their wealth. If the value of such wealth is more than £250,000, what is left after payment to the surviving husband/wife is divided into two halves.  The first half goes to the spouse.  The second half goes to the children in equal shares.  If a child pre-deceased their parent, the share of that child will go to their children (grandchildren of the deceased).

Under Polish rules, the surviving wife or husband and children inherit in equal shares with a proviso that the husband/wife must get at least ¼ share of the whole estate.  So, in families that have 2 children, both spouse and children will get 1/3 share; in families that have 3 children, the spouse and children will get ¼ share; in families that have 4 or more children, the spouse will get ¼ and the children equal shares in the remainder. Just like in England, when a child dies before the parent, their children will inherit their share.

When a person dies single or divorced but with children the children will get everything in equal shares as between them.  Again a share of a child who pre-deceased their parent goes to their children (i.e. the grandchildren).

When a person dies single and with no children in both countries there is a sequence of close relatives (parents and siblings) who are entitled to inherit.  If there are no close relatives, the assets go to the Crown (in England) and the Treasury (Skarb Państwa) in Poland.

The rules described above often seem unfair to e.g. a child who looked after their parent for years and is left with hardly anything?  Can anything be done about it after the death of the intestate parent?  See our future article on claims for better provision or contact us for more detailed advice.