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Guide To Intestacy


What Is Intestacy?

If someone dies without making a Will they are said to have died “intestate”. If a person dies intestate their estate and possessions are shared between surviving relatives according to fixed rules set by law. These are known as the intestacy rules.

Intestacy – What Happens?

If a person dies without leaving a valid Will then the law decides how their estate and possessions will be distributed.

Many people assume that if they die without making a Will, all of their assets and possessions will pass to their spouse or long term partner. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. It may mean that someone you do not wish to benefit from your estate will do so whilst others who you do wish to benefit, for example, stepchildren and co-habitees, will be left with nothing.

The following is intended to provide general guidance on the intestacy rules.

If a person has a surviving spouse, the intestacy rules depend upon when that person died.


If the person died before October 2014 and had a surviving spouse, then you need to establish whether or not that person had any children (known as issue – issue means all direct descendants of that person i.e. children, grandchildren, great children and so forth) and the value of the estate.

If the person had a surviving spouse and children, then provided the net estate is worth less than £250,000, the spouse inherits the whole estate. If the estate is worth more than £250,000, then the spouse inherits all personal chattels, receives £250,000 and has a life interest in half of the remaining balance (which reverts to the children on the death of the surviving spouse). The other half of the remaining balance passes equally to the children who survive and reach the age of 18. If a beneficiary who would have been otherwise entitled dies before the deceased but leaves children of their own then those children will inherit the share of their deceased parent.

If the person had a surviving spouse and no children and their estate is worth less than £450,000 then the surviving spouse inherits the estate in its entirely.

If the estate is worth in excess of £450,000, you will then need to establish whether the person had surviving parents, and if none, any surviving brothers and sisters, and if none whether those brothers and sisters had any children and so on. The surviving spouse then inherits £450,000 in addition to the personal chattels, and the balance of the estate is then divided in two with one half passing entirely to the surviving spouse and the other half passing to surviving parents equally (if two) and absolutely, and if none brothers and sisters equally and absolutely and so on.

Please refer to the section titled “no surviving spouse” and follow the table for the full list of potential beneficiaries.


If the person had a surviving spouse and no children, their estate passes to their spouse in its entirety.

If the person had a surviving spouse and children, the spouse receives the first £250,000 of the estate and then the balance of the estate is divided into two. One half of the remaining balance passes to the spouse absolutely and the other half of the remaining balance passes to issue on statutory trusts. If a member of a class dies before inheriting then their children will inherit their deceased parent's shares.


If a person dies and they do not have a surviving spouse, it does not matter when that person died, the estate will devolve in the following way.

If the person had surviving issue, those children or grandchildren receive the whole estate on statutory trusts in equal shares, and if there are no issue, the estate passes to a person’s surviving parents in equal shares. If no surviving parents, please refer to the table below.

To use the table below, which is provided as general guidance, if the answer is yes, look to the right of the chart as to how the estate devolves and only if the answer is no, move to the following line.

intestacy table

Do I really need a Will?

The simple answer is “Yes”. Every adult should make a Will preferably with a reputable firm of solicitors, and review it regularly, particularly if their circumstances change, such as they get married, have children or get divorced.

The main reason is so that you can decide who should benefit after your death rather than allow the above intestacy rules to decide it for you, as they may not suit your circumstances.

There are many benefits to having a Will:

  • You decide as to who should benefit from your assets after your death, rather than allowing the intestacy rules to decide for you.
  • You can name individuals, who can be professionals specialising in the administration of estates, to deal with your estate after your death. If you do not, this is determined by law.
  • You can ensure that your estate is dealt with in a tax efficient manner.
  • You are likely to reduce the possibility of any challenge to your own estate if you have a Will determining how you want your estate to be dealt with after your death. A solicitor will carefully document the reasons for your decisions and can advise as to possible challenges.

Other Points to note

If you are reading this guide because someone close to you has died without a Will, you must first determine whether you have any right to act and administer their estate i.e. act as personal representative. If you require assistance please do contact us.

If you are not entitled to act as a personal representative, or are not happy with the entitlement you have, we can advise as to whether it is possible to vary who benefits under intestacy.

If, under intestacy you feel that reasonable financial provision has not been made for you, then you may have a claim for increased financial provision under The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Please refer to our separate guide for claims of this nature.

For any further information on intestacy or any other matter regarding wills, trusts or probate please contact our Private Client Department.

For further advice and help please do contact Dispute A Will on 0800 975 2166 or email via the contact page


For further advice and help please do contact Dispute A Will 0800 9752166 or email vie the contact page

Call Us Free On 0800 975 2166