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Intestacy rules

Understand the steps you'll need to take when someone has died without a will, or 'intestate'.

In this article
What is intestacy? Intestacy distribution
How are intestate estates administered?

What is intestacy?

When someone dies without a will, their estate is considered 'intestate'. 

The deceased's estate is distributed in line with formal intestacy rules, which means that the surviving spouse and/or children will receive a specific share. If there is no spouse or children, the parents or siblings of the deceased inherit.

Intestacy distribution

The intestacy rules determine how the estate of someone who dies without a will is distributed.

In Scotland, a surviving spouse or civil partner is entitled to 'prior rights' (the family home - assuming it is in Scotland, they were resident in it at the time of death and it is worth less than £473,000) and a share of the 'legal rights', which are shared with any surviving children. 

The following cases show how the intestacy rules apply in England and Wales. The outcome is different, depending on whether the deceased had children and whether they were married. In some cases, where no relative can be found, the estate of someone who dies intestate will ultimately pass to the Crown.

Deceased is married or in a civil partnership and has children:

  • Their spouse will receive everything in the estate, including all personal possessions, up to the first £250,000.
  • Anything above that amount is divided in two, with half going the children (at age 18) and half to the spouse.

Deceased is married or in a civil partnership but has no children:

  • Their spouse will receive all personal possessions and the proceeds of the estate.

Deceased is unmarried and has children:

  • Their children will receive the proceeds of the entire estate when they turn 18.

Deceased is unmarried with no children:

The entire estate will go to the following relatives, in this order: 

  • Their parents;
  • If parents are deceased, to their brothers and sisters;
  • If they have no siblings or surviving parents, to their grandparents;
  • If grandparents are also deceased, to uncles and aunts;
  • If they have no living relatives, the estate will go to the Crown.


How are intestate estates administered?

The estate is handled by an administrator (normally the next of kin or a close relative), who is appointed by the Probate Registry after applying for a grant of representation. 

The application process is similar to that of an executor. You must first complete a probate application form and the relevant inheritance tax form. After this, you submit your application and swear an oath.

In Scotland, a relative who assumes this role is called the ‘executor-dative’.