Intestacy rules

If you die without a will, the intestacy rules dictate who can administer your estate. These will not necessarily be the person you would want to have such power over your estate.

What is intestacy?

Intestacy is the name of the rules set out to manage a person’s estate once they die, if there is no valid will or binding declaration is in place. These rules may also apply, if the deceased’s will only covers part of the estate, with the remaining estate forming the ‘intestate estate’. The rules of intestacy set out who can and cannot inherit from the decreased estate.

The main beneficiaries under the rules of intestacy will be married partners / civil partners and children. If the deceased has no partner or children remaining when they die, grandchildren can inherit, and if there are no grandchildren then other close relatives such as parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins may inherit the estate.

Unmarried couples

If you have a partner, but are not married and have not entered into a civil partnership, you have, broadly speaking, no automatic rights to your partner’s estate if they die without making a will.

In essence, if your partner dies without making a will, the intestacy rules will determine what happens to their assets. However, as you might expect, there are some exceptions to these rules. For example, if you have a joint bank account with your partner, you will usually get all the money in the account under the “survivorship rules”.

If you own a house together as “joint tenants” you will own the entire house; but this is not automatically the case if you hold the house as “tenants in common”, because your partner’s share in the property will pass in accordance with the intestacy rules.


If you have any children together, all your partner’s other assets will bypass you and go to your children. If there are no children at the time of your partner’s death, the assets will pass to their parents. If the parents are no longer alive, they will go to one of the following (in this order): brother/sister, half brother/half sister, grandparents, uncle/ aunt and so on.

If no relatives, however distant, are alive, your partner’s assets will pass to the Crown, unless you can prove — which is not easy — that your partner owned an asset (or part of an asset) on your behalf.

Inheritance claim

It may be possible to bring a claim against your partner’s estate for a share of their assets under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Claims can be made under a number of categories, which our team of experienced lawyers can explain and explore on your behalf.

Clearly it is better to avoid the heartache of making such a claim if you both make a will now but if you don’t, our private client lawyers can offer clear guidance and support and will explore what options you may have to pursue a claim to receive some or all of your partner’s estate.

Who else is not entitled to inherit under the rules of intestacy?

There are a number of people who are not entitled to inherit from the estate under the rules of intestacy. These include unmarried partners or partners not in a civil partnership (this includes divorced or legally separated partners), relations by marriage, friends and carers. However, a deed of variation can be created and agreed upon by all beneficiaries to decide how the estate should be divided when no will is in place.

What does an intestacy solicitor do?

An intestacy solicitor will help to guide you through the legal process when someone dies without a will, whether that be your partner, relative or loved one. We can help you to understand who is entitled to inherit from the estate, obtain a Grant of Letters of Administration and appoint administrators, trace any missing beneficiaries and draft a deed of variation if all beneficiaries can agree on how the estate should be divided.

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