Intestacy Rules

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The Intestacy Rules dictate who is entitled to a deceased individual’s estate when it has not been disposed of by a valid will.  In 2014 the government made some changes to the Intestacy Rules.  These new provisions apply where an individual dies on or after 1st October 2014 and are set out in brief below:

When an individual dies leaving a spouse and children, the spouse will receive:

  • the first £322,000 of the estate;
  • personal possessions;
  • half of the remainder of the estate outright.


The children will receive the other half of the remainder of the estate outright (if more than one in equal shares) at the age of 18.

When an individual dies leaving a spouse but no children, the spouse will receive the entire estate. Other relatives will receive nothing, regardless of the extent of the estate.

When an individual dies without leaving a spouse, the estate will be distributed to surviving family members.  The intestacy rules dictate a ‘pecking order:

  • Children (or other direct descendants such as grandchildren)
  • Parents
  • Full siblings (or their children if the sibling has predeceased)
  • Half siblings (or their children if the half sibling has predeceased)
  • Grandparents
  • Aunts/Uncles (or their children if predeceased)
  • Half Aunts/Uncles (or their children if predeceased)


Because the list is a hierarchy, only if there are no members of a particular class of relative does the next class become relevant – the estate cannot be split between two different classes of relatives. If the deceased has children or grandchildren living at the time of their death, other relatives will receive nothing, regardless of the extent of the estate.

The ‘one size fits all’ approach of the intestacy rules is simply not suitable for most modern family dynamics.  There is no automatic provision for cohabiting partners, irrespective of the length of cohabitation, or the presence of children. Nor is there automatic provision for step or foster children. Furthermore, a person to whom the deceased was married to or in a civil partnership with will inherit, even if the couple were separated and living separate lives. Please visit our Family Law page for more information.

Looking at the intestacy rules emphasises the importance of making a Will as it is the only way to ensure that your wishes are followed when the times comes – no one should rely on the intestacy rules to distribute their estate on their death.

For more information on the intestacy rules and their operation in real life situations, please read our article: “Succession Planning – Not Just a Family Affair”.

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