Rules of Intestacy Explained

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What happens to my estate if I die without a valid Will?

Intestacy Rules Explained

If you don’t have a valid Will then your estate is shared out according to certain rules determined by law known as the rules of intestacy. This could mean that the people you would like to benefit may lose out or your estate could be liable to a higher inheritance tax bill than necessary.

The rules of intestacy are restrictive and governed by legislation written decades ago that doesn’t cater for the modern world we live in today. When this legislation was introduced, the rules reflected the stereotypical “2.4 children” family model. Things have changed a lot since then and today there is no such standard family set up. In general people are choosing to get married later with some couples opting to live together but not get married. Many couples are on their 2nd or 3rd marriage, which can sometimes bring step-children in to the picture. Many of today’s circumstances are not reflected in the rules of intestacy and as yet we haven’t seen a change in the law to reflect these new family models, which means many families will fall outside of the automatic entitlements and it’s quite probable that someone will miss out.

Under the rules of intestacy, the following do not have any automatic right:

  • Unmarried partners
  • Step children
  • Foster children
  • Relations by marriage
  • Friends
  • Charities

Certain categories of people, provided they satisfy qualifying criteria may be able to apply to court for financial provision from the estate if they have no rights under the rules of intestacy, however this process can be lengthy and costly and offers no guarantee.

The only way to ensure that your assets pass on as you want and not as the law decides is to make a Will. You have power over who inherits what and you have the option of including trusts in your Will that affords you and your beneficiaries more control and protection.


Intestacy Rules:

Married or in a Civil Partnership with children

The surviving spouse or civil partner gets first £270,000 and personal possessions and half of the remainder.

The other half is shared equally among any children, held in trust until each child reaches the age of 18.

If a child has already died, their children (grandchildren) inherit that child’s share in their place.


Married or in a Civil Partnership with no children

The whole estate goes to the surviving spouse or civil partner.


Not married or in a Civil Partnership with children

The estate is shared equally among any children, held in trust until each child reaches the age of 18.

If a child has already died, their children (grandchildren) inherit that child’s share in their place.


Not married or in a Civil Partnership with no children

The whole estate is shared equally among the parents.

If both parents have already died then:

The whole estate is shared equally among any brothers or sisters.

If a brother or sister has already died, their children (nieces and nephews) inherit that share in their place.

If no brothers or sisters (or their descendants) have survived you then:

The whole estate is shared equally among any half-brothers or half-sisters
If a half-brother or half-sister has already died, their children (nieces and nephews) inherit that share in their place.

If no half-brothers or half-sisters (or their descendants) have survived you then:

The whole estate is shared equally among the grandparents.

If both grandparents have already died then:

The whole estate is shared equally among any aunts or uncles.

If an aunt or uncle has already died, their children (cousins) inherit that share in their place

If no aunts or uncles (or their descendants) have survived you then:

The whole estate is shared equally between any half-aunts or half-uncles.
If a half-aunt or half-uncle has already died, their children (cousins) inherit that share in their place.

If no half-aunts or half-uncles (or their descendants) have survived you then:

The whole estate goes to The Crown.


Case Study

Katie and Jason have been living together for over 10 years. Jason proposed several years ago and the couple are engaged to be married, but haven’t yet set a date. Katie has a son, Harry from a previous relationship who is 8 years old. Jason has helped raise Harry and has always considered him to be his son, though not biologically related or legally adopted. They have a very close relationship and Harry calls him Dad. Katie and Jason also have a child together, Lucy who is 5. Unfortunately, Jason is severely injured while playing Rubgy, which results in a blood clot in the brain and he sadly passes away a week after the accident. Jason did not have a Will, so under the rules of intestacy his daughter Lucy inherits his entire estate; Katie and Harry receive nothing as they have no rights under the rules of intestacy.


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