Rules of intestacy

When someone dies without a will, the rules of intestacy determine what happens to their estate.

Dan Fitzpatrick avatar

Dan Fitzpatrick

06 January 2022

What does it mean?

A person who died without leaving a will is referred to as "intestate."

When writing a will, a person has the option of selecting who should inherit their estate and how much each individual should receive. Many people prefer to leave everything to their spouse, civil partner, or children, but extended family, friends, and charities are also viable possibilities.

When a person dies intestate, there are no legally binding wishes as to what should happen to their estate. Intestacy rules apply when a person dies without leaving a will.

Rules of instestacy

The rules of intestacy are a set of laws that control what happens to a person's estate in England and Wales when they die intestate. They usually work well for traditional families with set rules, although unmarried partners, cohabitees, and stepchildren may have greater difficulties.

When someone dies without a will, who inherits?

When someone dies without a will, their estate is passed down to the next of kin. When a person dies without leaving a will, the rules of intestacy determine who will be the legal next-of-kin. The guidelines also define the amount that the next-of-kin can inherit.

After any obligations and responsibilities have been paid, an 'estate' is all the money and property that a person had at the time of their death.

Unmarried and has no children

If a person dies intestate and has no children, their estate is divided among their close relatives in the following order of priority:

  • Parents

  • Brothers or sisters with the same parents as the individual who died have already died, their share will be passed on to their children.

  • Half brothers or sisters have already died, their share will go to their children.

  • Grandparents

  • Aunts and uncles whose parents are the deceased person's grandparents — if any aunts and uncles have already passed away, their share will be passed down to their offspring.

  • Half aunts or uncles with one parent who is the deceased person's grandparent have already passed away, their share will be passed down to their children.

Do i not need to make a will under the rules of instestacy?

The guidelines are in place as a safety net to ensure that funds are delivered to the right people. The regulations, however, are nearly a century old and do not sufficiently account for more modern family scenarios such as unmarried couples or parents with stepchildren.

Aside from having a say in who inherits your fortune, there are a few additional compelling reasons to make a will:

  • Choosing the right person to manage your assets when you pass away

  • legal guardianships for minors under the age of 18

  • Leaving gifts and messages for your loved ones

  • Write down your funeral wishes to assist your family in organising a personal send-off

  • Making an inventory of your belongings so that your family knows where your money is – which can then be maintained in your will.

Under the rules of intestacy, who does not inherit?

The following people are not eligible to inherit anything under the rules of intestacy:

  • When someone dies without a will, only married spouses or partners in a civil relationship can inherit.

  • Cohabitees: Those who lived with the person who died, even if they cohabited for many years, are not entitled to inherit anything under the rules of intestacy.

  • Stepchildren: Stepchildren can only inherit if the deceased person lawfully adopted them.

  • Close friends: It is common for people to leave anything in their will to close friends, although they do not inherit anything due to the rules of intestacy.

  • Other relatives: any relatives with a lower priority under intestacy regulations, such as grandchildren if the husband and children are still alive.

Do children inherit according to intestacy rules?

Only one of the following conditions must be met for intestacy rules to apply:

  • Everything is divided equally among the children if the deceased person had no living spouse or civil partner.

  • If the deceased person's estate is worth more than £270,000 (or £250,000 if the death occurred between 6 February 2020 and 1 October 2014), the spouse or civil partner inherits the first £270,000 plus half of the remainder, with the children receiving an equal share of the remainder (the spouse or civil partner also inherits all personal possessions and is entitled to interest from the date of death).

When there is a will, may the rules of intestacy be applied?

Yes, in some situations. A 'partial intestacy' can occur if all of the beneficiaries mentioned in a will have died and no substitutes have been named. This means that the estate that cannot pass through a will will pass to the next-of-kin under intestacy rules.

Beneficiaries are those who are entitled to receive inheritance from an estate.

People who write their wills can easily prevent problems like "partial intestacy." All they have to do now is make sure that substitute beneficiaries are included, i.e., who they would like to inherit if the original beneficiary died before them.


The rules of intestacy are a set of regulations that govern what happens to a person's estate if they pass away without leaving a will.

If the deceased person was married and did not have children or grandchildren, the surviving spouse or civil partner inherits the entire estate if they live for at least 28 days.

If the individual who died was married and had children, their spouse or civil partner inherits the first £270,000 (or £250,000 if the death occurred before 6 February 2020 but after 1 October 2014), plus half of anything over that amount. The remainder is divided evenly among the deceased person's children. In addition, the spouse or civil partner receives all personal property and is entitled to interest beginning on the day of death.

Intestacy rules prevent unmarried partners, stepchildren, and friends from inheriting.

Making a will is the most effective approach to ensure that you have a role in how your estate is distributed.

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