What is intestacy?
If you die without a will, your estate will be divided up according to standard rules, known as intestacy law – regardless of what your wishes are. This process can be exceptionally complicated and long-winded, and you might find your assets aren’t divided in the way you hoped.
The Administration of Estates Act determines how your estate is divided, and who will receive what. Different rules apply in Scotland – jump to our intestacy in Scotland section to find out more.
In most cases, your spouse or civil partner will inherit the bulk of your estate. Under intestacy rules, unmarried partners have no right to inherit anything, no matter how long or serious the relationship was.
The rules are complex, and can change depending on your familial situation when you die.
To choose what happens to your estate, and make sure your loved ones benefit in the way you prefer, you can write a will. Find out more in our guide on how to make a will
- Are you making a will? Make your will and get it reviewed by Which? Wills, all for a fair price – visit Which? Wills to find out more.
Dying intestate: how will your estate be split up?
If you're married or in a civil partnership AND have children
If you're married or are in a civil partnership and have children, but haven't written a will, your spouse will receive everything in your estate, including all personal possessions, up to the first £250,000.
Anything above that amount is divided in two; half goes to your children when they reach the age of 18, the other to your spouse.
If you're married or in a civil partnership, with NO children
If you're married or in a civil partnership and have no children, your spouse will receive all personal possessions and the proceeds of your estate.
If you’re an unmarried person AND have children
If you're unmarried person and have children, your children will receive the proceeds of your entire estate when they reach the age of 18.
If you're an unmarried person with NO children
If you die intestate with no spouse or civil partner and no children, your entire estate will go to your next of kin – in this order:
- your parents
- if your parents are deceased, your estate will go to your siblings
- if you have no siblings, your estate will go to your grandparents
- if your grandparents are deceased, your estate will go to uncles and aunts
- if you have no living relatives and die intestate, your estate will go to the crown.
It’s crucial to recognise that unmarried partners will never benefit if you die intestate – even if you cohabit. The only way to make sure your estate is left to your partner is to get married (or enter a civil partnership) or to write a will.
In Scotland, the rules on intestacy are different to in England and Wales.
A surviving spouse or civil partner is entitled to 'prior rights'. This includes a share in the family home up to a value of £473,000, assuming it is in Scotland and the partner was a resident in it at the time of death. It also includes furniture up to a value of £29,000 and other moveable assets up to £50,000 (if you have children) or £89,000 (no children).
Whatever is left of the estate will then be divided up according to 'legal rights', which are shared between your spouse and any children, or among other immediate family.
If you have no spouse, your estate is shared among your children. And if you have neither spouse nor children, your estate is distributed among your immediate family according to rules set out in the Succession (Scotland) Act.
Want to make a will?
To avoid intestacy, and have a say in what happens to your estate after you die, it's worth making a will.
We explain what you need to do in our guide on how to make a will