Intestacy refers to the situation where a deceased person has not made a will but has left assets. In this case the law determines who will inherit those assets. The Intestacy Rules dictate the order of priority of potential beneficiaries based on their relationship with the testator. In order to deal with the estate of a deceased person who has not left a will it is usually necessary for one of the potential beneficiaries to make application to the Probate Registry of the High Court of Justice for a Grant of Letters of Administration which will give that person the right to collect in the assets and pay all liabilities before distributing the net estate in accordance with the intestacy rules. Intestacy does not preclude a dependant from challenging the distribution if adequate provision has not been made for their needs. The Intestacy Rules are complex and who receives what depends on the personal circumstances of the deceased, family relationships, whether or not there are children or a cohabitee, the amount of the estate and the existence of dependants. Given the complexity of the Intestacy Rules, potential claimants are well advised to obtain advice from a specialist probate solicitor.

If a person dies without leaving a valid will then The Intestacy Rules dictate and determine who gets what. It doesn’t matter what the stated or unstated intentions of the deceased where, the law in the form of the Intestacy Rules decides the issue in the absence of a properly executed will. The following is a basic guide to what would happen under the Intestacy Rules:

~ Married with a lawful living spouse (i.e. not ‘common law’ partners which is not a relationship recognised under the Intestacy Rules)

~ Estate of less than £125,000 goes to the spouse. Estate of more than £125,000 and no other surviving relative (eg children, grandchildren, parents), everything goes to the spouse.

~ Married with a lawful living spouse and children Estate less than £125,000 goes to the spouse. Estate more than £125,000 then spouse receives £125,000 and a life interest in half of anything over this sum. Children receive half the sum over £125,000 immediately and the other half on the death of spouse. If the children die first their children receive their parent's entitlement.

~ Lawful spouse, no children, but parents/brothers/sisters/ grandparents/aunts/uncles Estate worth less than £200,000 goes to spouse. Estate worth more than £200,000, spouse receives £200,000 and half the balance with remaining half to the other relatives in order of priority - parents; brothers/sisters; half brothers/sisters; grandparents; aunts/uncles; spouses of aunts/uncles.

~ Not lawfully married with children Estate shared between the children. Should they die first their children would take their share.

~ The deceased leaves no will and is not lawfully married, with no children but with parents or brothers/sisters/grandparents/aunts/uncles Estate shared equally amongst them in order of priority - parents; brothers/sisters; half brothers/sisters; grandparents; aunts/uncles; spouses of aunts/uncles. If any of these have died first, but have living children then the children take their parent's share.

Who Can Inherit

Those who can claim include parents, siblings, nieces and nephews dependent on whether there is a surviving spouse or civil partner, children, grandchildren or great grandchildren and the amount of the estate. There are separate rules for nieces and nephews dependent on whether or not the direct relative has also died. The intestacy rules appear at first sight to be very restrictive in the degrees of relationship that are entitled to claim a share of the estate however some of those not covered by the Intestacy Rules may be able to make a claim against the estate using the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. People who have no claim under the Intestacy Rules include unmarried partners, lesbian or homosexual partners not in a civil partnership, relationships by marriage, close friends and carers. If there are no potential claimants under the Intestacy Rules and no applicants under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 then the entire estate may be forfeited to the Crown and the assets may transfer in to the coffers of the Chancellor of the Exchequer under the bona vacantia regulations.

Common Errors That Invalidate Wills

Below are three of the most commonly litigated matters related to contentious probate and contested wills: A valid will is one that was made by a mentally sound adult who was not under undue influence at the time of making the will. Additionally, for a will to be valid, it must be signed by two independent witnesses, present together, who witnessed either the will being signed or an acknowledgement that the will was signed. The dependents of a deceased person have a right to continued financial support which means that if the deceased’s will does not make adequate provisions for a spouse, child or disabled person, then that individual can pursue legal action for a share of the estate. In some cases, the Probate Registry may accept a copy of a will when the original has been lost. A full court hearing is usually held and a judge decides, based on the evidence presented, if the will in question was lost or revoked by destruction by the testator.


If a will is deemed invalid and there is no earlier valid will which would then take precedence then the beneficiaries of the estate will be determined by the Intestacy Rules.

Grant from the Estate

A person who would have expected to benefit from the estate of a deceased person but did not can apply for a grant from that persons estate. For example if you provided the deceased person with free services including washing, cleaning, cooking, shopping, home repairs or care for which they might otherwise have had to pay or you lived together as a partner or a friend but where not married you may be able to make application for a share of the estate even though you were not related to that person.

Intestacy Solicitors Legal Advice

Our intestacy solicitors can advise you on matters related to the Intestacy Rules and to litigating invalid wills as well as lost or destroyed wills. We can also give you advice on potential litigation surrounding a will with inadequate provisions for the care of a deceased’s dependent.