Intestacy Rules: What Happens If You Die Without a Will?

Who inherits if there is no Will?

When someone dies without a Will, there are certain rules that govern how their estate is shared amongst loved ones. This will include their assets – such as property, savings or investments – and any outstanding debts.

The same rules will apply if someone has made a Will that’s deemed to be invalid. This will usually only happen if the Will has not been witnessed or signed correctly, or if it the individual did not have mental capacity at the time of writing their Will.

In both these cases, it is the rules of intestacy that will decide who inherits the estate of the person who has died.

What are the rules of intestacy?

Dying without a Will is legally referred to as ‘dying intestate’. When this happens, the rules of intestacy will decide how your assets are distributed amongst your family members and loved ones.

These rules were first introduced in England under the Administration of Estates Act 1925, and they’ve seen very little change in the years since. As a result, the rules of intestacy are sometimes criticised for not reflecting modern day relationships.

The most obvious example of this is the lack of recognition for unmarried couples. Currently, the rules of intestacy still prioritise those who are married or in a civil partnership. And while unmarried partners can claim against the estate of their loved one, this can be a lengthy and draining process.

When someone who is not married or in a civil partnership dies, the rules of intestacy dictate that their entire estate should go to their children (biological or adopted). But if there are no children, the estate will usually be split up between:

  • Grandchildren or great grandchildren – this will only apply if the grandchild’s parent or grandparent has died before the intestate person
  • Parents – this doesn’t include step-parents, unless they formally adopted the person who has died intestate
  • Siblings – half-siblings will inherit under the rules of intestacy if there are no surviving full siblings, but step-children will need to make a separate claim against the estate
  • Other close relatives – such as uncles, aunts and cousins

What are the inheritance rights of a surviving spouse?

This will depend on whether you have children or not. If you don’t, your spouse or civil partner will automatically inherit your entire estate when you pass away – regardless of whether or not you’ve written a Will.

If you do have children, your other half will inherit the first £322,000 of your estate. Whatever is left after this will be split 50/50 between your spouse or civil partner and your children.

As we’ve mentioned, the rules of intestacy don’t currently recognise unmarried couples – even those who are living together. In these cases, the surviving partner would need to make an inheritance claim against the estate. This can be time consuming and costly, so it’s best avoided if possible.

To find out more about your partner’s inheritance rights, take a look at our free guide to spousal rights.

How to apply for probate without a Will

Usually someone would name an executor in their Will who would apply for probate and handle the distribution of their estate, settling any debts and distributing assets to the named beneficiaries.

But if there is no valid Will to refer to, a family member or friend will need to apply for what’s called a ‘grant of letters of administration’ – also known as a grant of representation. This will allow you to value the estate, pay off outstanding debts and pass on any assets.

If you decide to take on this role, it may be worth appointing a Wills and Probate solicitor. They will help you navigate the process, ensuring all the relevant steps are taken.

To find out how we could put you in touch with a legal expert, get in touch with us today. You can give us a call on the number at the top of the screen or start your enquiry online.

Note: First4Lawyers offers this information as guidance, not advice. Before taking any action, you should seek professional assistance tailored to your personal circumstances.


It seems you are using an outdated browser.

This will impair your browsing experience around the web. Please visit one of the links below to update to a modern browser then re-open the site with the new browser.

Thank you


Can't find what you are looking for?

We are open as normal during the Coronavirus lockdown and are able to help with all your legal needs.

Call us free of charge

0800 567 7866

Request a Callback

Continue browsing