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The rules of intestacy

Your Life
Thursday 24 January 2019
When a person dies without leaving a valid will, this is called dying intestate.

And when this occurs, the deceased’s estate must be shared out according to certain rules*.

These are called the rules of intestacy.

These rules decide where the person’s estate ends up following their death. And the order in which the estate is distributed, for the most part, is simple. It goes:
  1. Spouse or civil partner
  2. Children/grandchildren
  3. Parents
  4. Brothers and sisters
  5. Grandparents
  6. Uncles and aunts
But there are also some finer details which you should be aware of.
The rules of intestacy often only stand where there is a legal bond between a couple. For example, if you were only co-habiting, you will not be able claim inheritance via the rules of intestacy.
However, if you were married or in a civil partnership and separated, but not legally, i.e. through divorce, you would still be classed as the spouse or civil partner to the deceased.
But even if you are still married or in a civil partnership, there can be stipulations as to how much you can inherit if there is no valid will.
If there are surviving children, grandchildren or great grandchildren of the person who died, and the estate is valued at more than £250,000, the partner will inherit:
  • All the personal property and belongings of the person who has died
  • The first £250,000 of the estate
  • Half of the remaining estate*2.
For example, Jane and David were married and they had a child called Molly. David died without leaving a valid will. His estate is worth £450,000. After Jane inherits her share (£250,000), the remaining value of the estate is £200,000. Jane receives another £100,000, while Molly also receives £100,000.
However, if there are no surviving children, the partner would inherit:
  • All the personal property and belongings of the person who has died
  • The whole of the estate with interest from the date of death.
On the flip side, if there is no surviving spouse or civil partner, but a surviving child, the child would inherit the entire estate. And if there’s two or more children, the estate would be split equally among them.

Similarly, if there is no surviving spouse or civil partner, and no surviving children, but there are surviving grandchildren, the estate would be split among them.

However, if none of the above apply, the rules of intestacy will continue to be used to decide who has the rightful claim to the estate.
And if there are no surviving relatives, the estate is passed to the Crown*2.
It’s never easy to predict when something like this could happen. And it’s not always nice to think about.
But without any doubt, it’s better to make sure your affairs are in order. That way, your loved ones receive what you believe is rightfully theirs.
The rules of intestacy above apply to England and Wales. For Scotland and Northern Ireland, please consult .gov.uk.

* https://www.gov.uk/inherits-someone-dies-without-will
Page last updated: Friday 25 January 2019