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When a person dies without leaving a valid Will, their estate is said to be intestate. In such circumstances, their estate will be distributed in accordance with inheritance laws known as the rules of intestacy. These are strict legal guidelines which determine how their estate is to be shared out. The rules of intestacy essentially provide a predetermined list of relatives in order of priority as to who will inherit (section 46 of the Administration of Estates Act 1925).

In this blog we will look at the general principles of the intestacy rules and what they mean for your estate.


1.    Married or in civil partnership

Firstly, your surviving spouse or civil partner (which we will collectively refer to as “spouse”), will be entitled to inherit your entire residuary estate, if you do not have any children. This includes a spouse from whom you have separated but not yet legal divorced/ ended your civil partnership. This is subject to your spouse surviving you for 28 days, also known as the ‘survivorship period’, as otherwise they will not be treated as having survived you and the inheritance will go to the next beneficiary entitled.

In circumstances where you have a surviving spouse and surviving children, then your spouse will inherit the first £322,000 of your estate together with any personal possessions and thereafter if there is anything remaining that will be divided equally with 50% going to your spouse and 50% to be divided equally between your children.

It is important to note however, that the intestacy rules only apply to assets that can be distributed under a will and any jointly owned assets are likely to pass outside of the estate to the surviving joint owner, such as joint bank accounts.

2.    Children

In the event that you are not married or in a civil partnership, your children (birthed or formally adopted) will inherit your entire estate. If there is more than one child then the estate will be divided equally between them. This also includes children who are conceived but not yet born at your date of death. Under the rules of intestacy, step-children or foster children will not inherit from your estate unless you have legally adopted them.

In the unfortunate circumstance that any of your children have died before you and they had children of their own then, for the purpose of children under the intestacy rules, their child(ren) will inherit in their place.

3.    Parents

If you don’t have any children or grandchildren, your parents will be entitled in equal shares if both are alive, or to the surviving parent entirely.

4.    Siblings

If neither of your parents are alive at the time of your death, your estate will be distributed to your siblings of whole blood, meaning that you share both parents, or as mentioned above if your sibling has died before you, their children will be entitled to inherit in their place.

If you have no siblings of whole blood then your siblings of half-blood would be the next class of beneficiaries to inherit i.e. you share one parent in common. As above, in the circumstances they have pre-deceased you leaving children of their own then they will inherit in their place.

5.    Grandparents

Next entitled to inherit if you don’t have any half-blood siblings are your grandparents either in equal shares if more than one are alive, or to a surviving grandparent entirely.

6.    Aunties and Uncles

In the event that you do not have any grandparents, then your aunties and uncles of the whole blood, or their children, will be next to inherit an equal share of your estate.

As above with siblings, if you do not have any aunties or uncles of the whole blood then your aunties and uncles of half-blood will be entitled to an equal share of your estate.

7.    The Crown

If, after going through your full family tree, there are no surviving relatives eligible under the rules of intestacy to inherit your estate then your estate becomes what is known as an ‘unclaimed estate’ also known as ‘bona vacantia’ and passes to the Crown.


Who cannot inherit?

You may have noticed that the rules of intestacy do not provide for the more modern or blended family relationships and they do not make provision for cohabiting couples (even if you live together and/or are in a relationship for a long time), or for step children or foster children or anyone who isn’t a blood relative. This being said, it may be that your partner or your stepchildren can apply for financial provision from your estate by making a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

It is therefore important that you plan for the future to ensure that your estate passes to those who you wish to inherit, and the best way to do this is by making a will.

If you would like to discuss this article further or perhaps wish to know more information on Wills generally, please do not hesitate to contact our specialist senior associate solicitor Katie Whitehead on 01484 821572 or via email


The above article is for illustrative purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any part of the information given.