Who Inherits if there is no will?

Who inherits if there’s no will? Rules of Intestacy in England and Wales


Under inheritance law, intestacy rules are a standard set of instructions which are followed to pass on an estate. They come into play if someone dies without leaving a will, or when a will is not legally valid.

A person who dies without a valid will is known as being intestate.

Some find that the inheritance law does not cover modern families. Couples who are not married or in a civil partnership, which is becoming increasingly common, miss out. Children who are not related by blood or legally adopted don’t receive anything from the rules either.

Who inherits from the rules of intestacy?

So, who does an estate of someone who dies intestate pass to?

Married partners and civil partners are the first to benefit from the rules of intestacy, followed by biological and adopted children.

If a couple is divorced or their civil partnership has legally ended, the surviving partner will not receive anything from the estate. Likewise, couples in a cohabiting relationship don’t qualify for the intestacy rules. Those who were married or in a civil partnership and are only separated, however, are eligible to receive a share of the estate. 

There are a couple of rules which apply when children, grandchildren and great grandchildren are set to inherit:

  • Children only receive their inheritance once they turn 18, or if they marry or form a civil partnership before then. Until that point, trustees are responsible for managing their inheritance.
  • Grandchildren and great grandchildren only inherit from the estate if their parents or grandparents have died before the intestate person.

If there are no surviving married/civil partners or children, the estate is passed on to other relatives. Ultimately, if there are no surviving relatives of the person who has dies without a will, the crown inherits the estate. Take a look at the flowchart further on in our article to see the order of qualifying relatives.

Jointly owned property and shared bank accounts

These days, many couples jointly own their home and share bank accounts.

Whether a partner inherits their jointly owned home depends on the tenancy. There are two types of joint tenancies; beneficial joint tenancies or tenancies in common.

If a couple own their home with beneficial joint tenancies, the surviving partner will automatically inherit their partner’s share of the property if they die intestate. If you are tenants in common, however, the surviving partner does not automatically inherit the other person’s share.

Any money in a joint bank account automatically goes to the surviving partner.

When a person dies intestate, their estate does not include the joint money and property a surviving partner inherits. Therefore, it will not be valued for the intestacy rules.

Intestacy Rules Flowchart

This flowchart illustrates who inherits from an estate which falls under intestacy rules. It follows a strict order and only direct relations benefit from the rules.

It’s worth noting the rules differ depending on which area of the UK you are from. This flowchart illustrates the rules for England and Wales. 

Intestacy Flowchart

Processing an Intestate Estate

Dealing with an intestate estate is not a quick or straight forward process. It can take months to work out what needs doing and may require additional paid-for services too.

Those who find themselves caught up in intestacy rules often find it very stressful. Many end up very disappointed if they miss out on inheriting from an estate because of the rules.

The best way to avoid any unnecessary delay to your estate to be divvied out and upset for those who may miss out, write a will! Especially if you are unmarried or want to leave something to friends or organisations who have no claim through the intestacy rules.

Further reading: What is a will? Five very good reasons you need to write one ASAP.

Professional Estate Planning

If in doubt about whether your will is legally valid, or you want help with your estate, it’s a good idea to consult an estate planner.

Our friendly team are experts in estate planning. We can help you put together a legally valid will. Leaving you safe in the knowledge that your estate will be divided up exactly how you want it to be. Especially important if you’re not married to your partner or want to leave something to a specific person.

We also provide a probate service as professional executors should you require help with the probate process once a loved one has passed away.