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A report from the National Will Register in early 2023 found that only 44% of adults in the UK had made a will. For those who had not made a will, two in five said this was because they had not yet got round to it, whilst almost a third felt they did not have enough to warrant making a will. One in ten felt their estate was too simple to need a will, and another one in ten said they did not know how to make a will.

Where someone dies without having made a will (or having made a will but which is later found to be invalid), they are said to have died intestate and their estate will be distributed in accordance with the Intestacy Rules. The Rules are strict in nature, and the consequences of the rules may result in a deceased’s estate passing in a way which is contrary to their wishes. Regardless of why people have not made a will, these statistics show that in many cases there will be an uncertainty as regards how a deceased’s wishes should be carried out following their death including distribution of their assets and may fall foul of the potential adverse consequences of applicability of the rules.

In this article we look at who inherits under the intestacy rules. This will depend upon the value of the deceased’s estate, and the own individual family set up. However, the rules set out in priority order a list of family members who can inherit a deceased’s estate. In descending order of priority, the list is as follows:


Deceased survived by spouse and/or civil partner only

If the deceased is survived by a spouse or civil partner, then they will inherit all of the deceased’s estate. This would include any spouse or civil partner who is informally separated from the deceased at the time of their death but does not apply if they were divorced at the date of the deceased’s death. Importantly, it also does not apply to cohabitees, regardless of how long the period of cohabitation has been.


Spouse and/or civil partner and children inheriting

If in addition to the surviving spouse or civil partner, there are surviving children of the deceased and the estate is valued at more than £322,000.00 (as from 26th July 2023) then the spouse or civil partner will inherit:

  • All the personal property and belongings of the deceased;
  • The first £322,000.00 of the estate (or £270,000.00 of the estate for deaths prior to 26th July 2023); and
  • Half of the remaining estate

with the balance passing to any children on an equal basis.

Adopted children are entitled to inherit under the rules along with biological children of the deceased, but step-children do not have any such rights (unless they have been formally adopted by their step-parent prior to their death).


Inheritance rights of children

If there is no surviving married or civil partner, then any children (as defined above) will inherit the deceased’s estate in full on an equal basis.

Grandchildren and great-grandchildren may also inherit under the deceased’s estate if:

  • Their parent or grandparent died before the intestate person; or
  • Their parent was alive when the intestate person died but died before reaching the age of 18 without having married or formed a civil partnership.

Any entitlement to inherit by a grandchild or great-grandchildren is by way of equal shares of the share to which their parent or grandparent would have been entitled.


What happens in an intestacy for other relatives?

If there is no surviving spouse, civil partner and/or children, then the estate will fall to be distributed to other relatives in the following order of priority:

  • The deceased’s parents;
  • The deceased’s siblings of full-blood;
  • The deceased’s siblings of half-blood;
  • The deceased’s grandparents;
  • The deceased’s aunts and uncles of full blood; and
  • The deceased’s aunts and uncles of half blood.

Distributions will be on an equal basis between surviving categories of family members.  Any surviving children of the deceased’s siblings or aunts and uncles, whether full blood or half blood can inherit their parent’s share if the parent(s) pre-deceased the intestate person.


Who inherits when there is no will or family?

If the deceased does not have any surviving relatives as identified in the afore-mentioned categories then their estate will pass in full to the Crown.



As indicated the intestacy rules and the applicability of the same are strict in nature and often this will mean that a deceased’s estate may fall to be distributed in a way other than in accordance with the deceased’s wishes. In addition, a will can deal to other matters as well as distribution of any property or other assets, such as who should be appointed as guardians of any minor children and your wishes as regards funeral arrangements. Testators would therefore be well advised to take steps to arrange to execute a will.

If you would like to receive advice and assistance regarding the preparation and execution of a will, please contact our team on [email protected]. Alternatively, read more on our wills, trusts and probate services to preserve and protect your wealth.

intestacy rules

Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.

Get in touch

If you have any questions relating to this article or have any legal disputes you would like to discuss, please contact the Wills, Trusts and probate team on

[email protected]
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