Who can inherit if there is no will? Navigating the Rules of Intestacy

In the absence of a valid will upon an individual’s death, the distribution of their property (referred to as the estate) is governed by specific regulations known as the rules of intestacy.

An individual who passes away without a will is designated as an intestate person.

Under the rules of intestacy, only married or civil partners, along with certain other close relatives, are eligible to inherit.

If an individual creates a will that is not legally valid, the rules of intestacy take precedence in determining how the estate will be distributed, superseding the expressed wishes in the invalid will.

For additional details on what constitutes a valid will, please refer to the section on Wills.

Who can inherit if there is no will
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Married partners and civil partners

Married or civil partners inherit through intestacy if married or in a civil partnership at death. No inheritance if divorced or civil partnership legally ended.

Separated partners can still inherit intestate. Unmarried cohabiting partners, often called ‘common-law’ partners, can’t inherit intestate.

If surviving children and estate over £322,000, partner inherits personal property, first £322,000, and half of the rest.

Example: Susan in civil partnership with Fang, adopted daughter Jia. Susan dies, estate £450,000. Fang inherits £322,000 share, remaining estate £128,000. Fang gets half – £64,000.

If no surviving children, estate goes entirely to the partner with interest from the date of death.

Jointly-owned property

Couples can jointly own a home in two ways: beneficial joint tenancies or tenancies in common.

In beneficial joint tenancies, if one partner dies, the surviving partner automatically inherits the other’s share of the property.

However, in tenancies in common, the surviving partner doesn’t automatically inherit the other person’s share.

For more details on these types of ownership, check “Buying a home.”

Couples might also share bank accounts. If one partner dies, the other automatically inherits the entire amount.

Inheritance of property and money by the surviving partner doesn’t count in the deceased person’s estate valuation for intestacy rules.

Example: Tom and Heather own their flat jointly as beneficial joint tenants. Tom dies, and Heather inherits the flat automatically, worth £300,000, along with £50,000 in shares. Since it’s below £322,000, Heather inherits the entire estate, leaving Selma with nothing.

If Tom owned the flat alone, his £350,000 estate would be shared according to intestacy rules. Heather gets £322,000, and the remaining £28,000 is split between Heather and Selma. Heather gets £14,000, and Selma gets the other £14,000.

Close relatives


If the intestate person has no surviving married or civil partner, children will inherit.

If there is a surviving partner, inheritance depends on the estate value surpassing a specific amount.

Children – if there is no surviving married or civil partner

No surviving partner: Children inherit entire estate, regardless of its value.

If multiple children, estate divided equally.

Children – if there is a surviving partner

Surviving partner: Child inherits if estate exceeds £322,000. With two or more children, they split half of the estate’s value above £322,000 equally.

Children of the deceased parent share estate equally, including those from different relationships.

Example: Alan and Grace divorce, Alan has child with new partner Beata. Alan dies. Grace and Beata don’t inherit. Tim, Annie, and Mark share Alan’s estate equally.

Children of unmarried or unpartnered parents can inherit from them or their grandparents if intestate.

Adopted children, including step-children adopted by step-parents, inherit. Biological relation needed for inheritance.

Children receive inheritance at 18 or upon marriage/civil partnership, managed by trustees until then.

Grandchildren and great grandchildren

A grandchild or great grandchild cannot inherit from the estate of an intestate person unless either:

  • their parent or grandparent has died before the intestate person, or
  • their parent is alive when the intestate person dies but dies before reaching the age of 18 without having married or formed a civil partnership

In these circumstances, the grandchildren and great grandchildren will inherit equal shares of the share to which their parent or grandparent would have been entitled.

Example: Abdul has two sons, Iqbal and Ismail. Ismail has one daughter, Habiba. Ismail dies when Habiba is two years old. Abdul dies intestate when she is 20. Habiba inherits Ismail’s share of Abdul’s estate.

Other close relatives

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Parents, brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews of the intestate person may inherit under the rules of intestacy. This will depend on a number of circumstances:

  • whether there is a surviving married or civil partner
  • whether there are children, grandchildren or great grandchildren.
  • in the case of nephews and nieces, whether the parent directly related to the person who has died is also dead
  • the amount of the estate.

Other relatives may have a right to inherit if the person who died intestate had no surviving married partner or civil partner, children, grandchildren, great grand-children, parents, brothers, sisters, nephews or nieces. The order of priority amongst other relatives is as follows:-

  • grandparents.
  • uncles and aunts. A cousin can inherit instead if the uncle or aunt who would have inherited died before the intestate person.
  • half-uncles and half-aunts. A half-cousin can inherit instead if the half-uncle or half-aunt who would have inherited died before the intestate person.

Who cannot inherit

The following people have no right to inherit where someone dies without leaving a will:

  • unmarried partners (sometimes wrongly called ‘common-law’ partners)
  • lesbian or gay partners not in a civil partnership
  • relations by marriage
  • close friends
  • carers

However, even if you can’t inherit under the rules of intestacy, you might be able to apply to court for financial provision from the estate.

Also read about: What happens to your date when you die in Canada?

If there are no surviving relatives

If there are no surviving relatives who can inherit under the rules of intestacy, the estate passes to the Crown. This is known as bona vacantia. The Treasury Solicitor is then responsible for dealing with the estate. The Crown can make grants from the estate but does not have to agree to them.

If you are not a surviving relative, but you believe you have a good reason to apply for a grant, you will need legal advice.

Rearranging the way the estate is shared out

Within two years of a person’s death, it’s possible to rearrange property distribution without a will through a deed of family arrangement. All potential intestate heirs must agree.

By agreeing, individuals can distribute the property differently, enabling non-intestate heirs to receive a portion.

They can also agree on varying amounts compared to the intestacy rules.

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