Understanding UK Intestacy Laws: How to Navigate Inheritance When There’s No Will

6 minutes

Losing a loved one is hard enough, and it gets even more complicated when they haven’t left a will. How do you decide who gets what and in what proportion? In such situations, UK intestacy laws come into play. These laws act like a default will, deciding how the estate is shared out, usually putting family first.

In this blog post, we guide you through how this process works and who could be entitled to what. Let’s get started.

What is intestacy?

Intestacy is what happens when someone dies without a valid will. In such cases, their estate – which includes all their assets, property, and personal effects – doesn’t have a clear path of distribution. Without a will to outline the deceased’s wishes, there’s a legal vacuum about who should inherit what. This is where intestacy laws come into the picture, acting as a default mechanism for estate distribution.

In the UK, these laws follow a specific hierarchy to determine who inherits the estate. It’s a bit like a family tree, with branches representing different relatives.

For instance, if the deceased is married or in a civil partnership, their partner is usually the first in line to inherit, often along with any children. If there are no children, the spouse might inherit the entire estate. In cases where there’s no spouse or children, the estate might go to parents, siblings, or even more distant relatives. It’s a systematic approach, ensuring that the estate is distributed among family members in a fair and legally sound manner, even in the absence of a will.

The rules of intestacy

The rules of intestacy in the UK are a set of legal guidelines that come into effect when someone dies without a valid will. These rules outline who is responsible for administering the deceased’s estate and determine the order of inheritance among the surviving relatives.

Under the current UK intestacy laws, the estate of a deceased person is distributed in a specific order of priority. This order prioritizes the spouse or civil partner, followed by children, parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and ultimately if no relatives are found, the Crown. This means that if a person dies without a will, their spouse or civil partner is the first to inherit. If there are children, the estate is shared between the spouse and children. In cases where there are no direct descendants, the estate passes to other relatives like parents or siblings.

A significant update to these rules occurred in 2023, specifically regarding the statutory legacy. The statutory legacy is the amount a surviving spouse or civil partner is entitled to receive where the deceased left children.

In July 2023, the UK government passed The Administration of Estates Act 1925 (Fixed Net Sum) Order 2023, which increased the statutory legacy from £270,000 to £322,000. If a person dies intestate leaving a spouse and children, the spouse will receive the first £322,000 of the estate, and the remainder will be shared with the children.

One of the key focuses in recent times is the situation of cohabitants. Under current rules, partners who aren’t married or in a civil partnership don’t automatically inherit. This can be particularly heart-wrenching, as long-term partners might be left out. However, the proposed changes aim to offer more protection to these partners, recognizing the realities of modern relationships. In the next paragraph, we’ll see examples of how this rule applies.

Who inherits in the absence of a will?

Intestacy Laws

When someone in the UK dies without a will, the intestacy rules determine who inherits their estate. It’s a bit like a flowchart, with different relatives in line to receive the estate based on their relationship to the deceased.

Let’s consider a few scenarios to see these rules in action:

Spouses and civil partners:

They’re at the top of the list. If there are no children, the spouse or civil partner inherits everything. If there are children, the spouse still gets the lion’s share, including all personal possessions and the first £322,000 of the estate. For example, John, a married father of two, passes away without a will. His estate is worth £500,000. His wife, Sarah, would receive the first £322,000, plus half of the remaining £178,000. Each child would receive a quarter of the £178,000.


If there’s no surviving spouse, the children inherit everything, divided equally. This includes biological children and those legally adopted. If a child has predeceased the parent, their share goes to their children (the deceased’s grandchildren).

Other relatives:

If there’s no spouse and no children, the estate goes down the family line – first to parents, then siblings, and so on. It keeps trickling down to more distant relatives like aunts and uncles, or their children (cousins or niblings), if necessary.

Special circumstances

Adopted children: Legally adopted children are treated the same as biological children under intestacy rules. They have full rights to inherit.

Step-children: Step-children do not automatically inherit under intestacy laws. They can only inherit if they are legally adopted by the deceased.

Common-law partners: Here’s where it gets tricky. Common-law partners, or cohabitants, don’t have the same rights as spouses or civil partners. They’re not automatically entitled to inherit under intestacy laws. However, they can apply to the court for financial provision from the estate if they can prove they were financially dependent on the deceased.

Every family’s situation is unique, and these rules can sometimes lead to unexpected or challenging outcomes. In such cases, professional legal advice can provide clarity and guidance tailored to the specific circumstances.

Practical steps for managing an estate without a will

Managing an estate when there’s no will can seem daunting, but following a set of practical steps can make the process more smooth.

1. Applying for a grant of letters of administration

Identify the administrator: Typically, the closest relative applies. This could be a spouse, child, or another family member.

Application process: The process involves completing legal forms and submitting them to the Probate Registry. This includes an inheritance tax form, regardless of whether the estate owes tax. In the UK, probate usually spans 6-12 months but can lengthen in complex cases. The process involves assessing, applying for probate, managing, and distributing the estate, with potential delays from legal challenges. This process can be shortened using “Know Your Dosh“. Know Your Dosh provides a secure platform to store and share important financial details like mortgages and investments which helps in estate organization and management, thus speeding up the probate process.

Grant of letters of administration: Once approved, this legal document gives the administrator authority to manage and distribute the estate.

2. Valuing the estate and paying off debts

Gathering Assets and Valuing the Estate: Compile a list of assets (like property, bank accounts) and liabilities (debts, bills).
Paying Debts: Before distributing the estate, all outstanding debts and taxes must be paid. This could include funeral expenses, utility bills, or a mortgage.

3. Distributing the estate according to intestacy rules

Understanding the hierarchy: Refer to intestacy rules to determine who is entitled to inherit.
Division of assets: After debts, distribute the remaining assets to the heirs based on the intestacy hierarchy.
Documenting everything: Keep detailed records of all transactions and decisions made in managing the estate.
This process requires careful attention to legal details and a fair amount of paperwork. It’s often advisable to seek legal advice or assistance, especially for larger or more complicated estates. The aim is to ensure that everything is handled legally, fairly, and as smoothly as possible for the benefit of all involved.

Legal implications and considerations

When dealing with intestacy, several legal implications and considerations need to be taken into account. These can sometimes lead to complex legal challenges and disputes.

Potential legal challenges and disputes

Family disputes: Intestacy often brings unexpected outcomes, which can lead to disagreements among family members. For instance, a common-law partner not automatically inheriting can cause significant distress and conflict.
Claims against the estate: Individuals who were financially dependent on the deceased but not covered under intestacy rules (like step-children or long-term partners) may make claims against the estate.
Disputes over asset valuation: The value of certain assets can be contentious, affecting how much each heir receives.
Challenges to administrator’s decisions: Family members might disagree with the decisions made by the person administering the estate.

Secure your legacy by planning ahead with “Know Your Dosh”

As we’ve explored the complexities of intestacy, it becomes crystal clear how crucial it is to have a will. A will is not just a legal document; it’s a roadmap for your loved ones, guiding them through what could be one of the most challenging times in their lives. It ensures that your wishes are known and followed, preventing potential disputes and legal challenges.

However, creating a will is just one piece of the puzzle. Sharing financial information with your loved ones is equally important. This is where “Know Your Dosh” steps in. With “Know Your Dosh” you can easily share your financial information with family members. By doing so, you’re providing them with crucial knowledge that can be vital in times of need.

Imagine a situation where, upon your passing, your family knows exactly where to find details about your assets, debts, and other financial matters. This transparency not only simplifies the process of managing your estate but also minimizes the stress and confusion during an already difficult time.

While the UK’s intestacy laws serve as a safety net, nothing compares to the peace of mind that comes with a well-planned estate. Take the step today with “Know Your Dosh” to ensure your financial legacy is understood and respected. Share your financial information with your loved ones, and rest easy knowing they’re prepared for the future. Sign up now to get started.

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