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When someone dies without making a valid will, they’re referred to as having died intestate. As such, their estate is distributed according to the rules of intestacy

Rules of intestacy

Under the rules of intestacy, the residue of the estate (what’s left after all debts and liabilities such as Inheritance Tax have been paid) will pass to relatives in a strict order of surviving spouse or registered civil partner and in shares.   

Who inherits the estate depends on several factors including the deceased’s marital status, whether there are children and the value of the estate itself. 

Letter of administration

When someone dies without a valid will, the intestacy rules determine who is entitled to act as an administrator to deal with the deceased’s estate, and apply for a grant of letters of administration if required.

Which? Legal can help

When someone dies without leaving a valid will, it can cause a great deal of confusion and financial worry for close relatives and dependents at a time of grief and sadness. The rules of intestacy are complex.

Our specialist advisers can advise you on all aspects of the rules of intestacy and on the responsibilities that individuals have when acting as an administrator for an estate. 

All advice contained within this section relates to England and Wales only.

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Meet your experts
Sarah Henley Sarah trained and worked in private practice in Bristol before joining Which? Legal as a qualified solicitor in January 2018. Sarah provides advice to members on Wills and Powers of Attorney. See profile
James Buchan James qualified as a Solicitor in 2009 and manages our Wills & Probate advice team. Before joining Which in 2018, James worked in-house as a Trust Manager with Coutts Bank. See profile
Ben Rosser Ben joined Which? Legal in 2015 as a wills and probate specialist. Ben trained and qualified in private practice and now advises on a range of legal issues, including estate administration. See profile