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Intestacy rules

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

If you die without first making a will or your will is invalid (for example, it hasn’t been signed or witnessed properly), your property – or estate as it’s known – is shared out according to the rules of intestacy.

Rules of intestacy

These rules determine who will receive the assets that form part of your estate on death. The rules are based on:

  • The value of your estate at the date of your death, after payment of debts, liabilities, funeral and other costs;

and

  • a strict order of blood relatives. These are placed into classes based on the closeness of the relationship to you. 

For example, if you’re married or in a registered civil partnership, the first person entitled to your estate under the intestacy rules is your spouse or registered civil partner, but they may not necessarily inherit all of your estate. This will depend on the value of your estate and whether you have children who survive you.

Because the rules are based on relationships to the deceased, a person who is a close relation, but was estranged from the deceased may well have an entitlement. A separated spouse/civil partner has an entitlement, including one separated by a Decree of Judicial Separation or Decree Nisi (unless the Court has made an order preventing it). However, the rules always exclude a divorced spouse or a civil partner where there is a Dissolution Order.

If there are no living relatives, the estate will automatically go to the Crown.

Dying without a will

By not making a will, you will have no control over how your estate, including personal possessions and sentimental items such as jewellery, will be distributed among your relatives. The rules also mean that there is no provision for:

  • unmarried partners – no matter how long the relationship

  • friends

  • charities or other organisations

  • family members in lower classes under the intestacy rules if there are relatives in a higher class

  • non-blood relations, such as step children or children who were unofficially adopted or fostered, or in laws and other relatives by marriage/civil partnership

The intestacy rules also govern the person(s) who administer an intestate estate and follow the same order as for the beneficiaries. Dying intestate means that the deceased has no say in deciding who should deal with the estate.

Which? Legal can help

Our specialist advisers provide expert legal advice on intestacy and guide you step by step on what to do when someone dies intestate. 

We offer individual, jargon-free advice to help you understand the complex rules of intestacy and advise on how family members are ranked in the strict order of priority as required by law. 

Useful links and documents

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