Learn what to do when someone dies intestate.

Intestacy:

Intestacy law divides someone’s estate if they die without a will.

Family ties decide who receives what under the Inheritance and Trustees’ Power Act.

The regulations don’t consider closeness or need.

Scotland has different rules, so see our section on intestacy there.

You can become an estate administrator if a close relative or acquaintance dies without a will. You’ll value the estate, pay debts, and distribute inheritances according to intestacy rules. Visit our section on estate administration to learn more.

Estate administration?

Intestacy

Intestacy rules define how an intestate estate is allocated.

The guidelines will divide your estate among your surviving relatives in proper order.

Your spouse or civil partner will inherit most of your estate (unmarried partners won’t).

Intestacy rules in England and Wales are shown below.

Has children, is married or in a civil partnership:

The spouse, wife, or civil partner keeps all assets up to £270,000 and all personal possessions.

The remaining estate is divided as follows:

Husband, wife, or civil partner gets half of the remainder; surviving children get the other half.

If a son or daughter has died, their offspring will inherit.

NO children, married or in a civil partnership:

Their spouse gets all personal belongings and estate earnings.

Unmarried AND has kids/grandkids:

When they turn 18, the children will get the estate. Each youngster gets an equal share.

Grandchildren or great-grandchildren can inherit a child’s portion.

Adopted and biological kids are equal.

Unmarried, childless:

In order, the estate will go to:

If parents are deceased, full siblings come before half-siblings;
if no siblings or parents, to grandparents;
Uncles, aunts, or their offspring if grandparents are also dead.

No living relatives, unmarried

The Crown gets everything.

Scotland’s intestacy

Scotland has distinct intestacy rules than England and Wales.

Survivors have ‘prior rights’ This includes a portion of the family home up to £473,000 if it’s in Scotland and the partner lived there at death. It includes up to £29,000 in furniture and £50,000 (if you have children) or £89,000 in other transportable assets (no children).

What’s left of the estate is split according to ‘legal rights’ among your spouse, children, and immediate family.

If you’re single, your children inherit your estate. If you have no spouse or children, the Succession (Scotland) Act divides your wealth among your immediate family.

Probate administration

When someone dies without a will, a relative is appointed to wind up their estate.

To become administrator, submit a ‘grant of representation’ to the Probate Registry. We outline the stages in our guide to probate grant.

First, appraise the estate. Complete a probate application and inheritance tax form. Then you submit your application and swear. Pay the probate fee.

As administrator, you must follow intestacy rules and distribute the inheritance legally.

In Scotland, this job is termed “executor-dative.”

HM Treasury handles estates without remaining family.

Probate help?

Legal’s free checklist can assist.

Invalid will?

A will isn’t necessarily legitimate just because someone wrote it.

Certain activities, like getting married, override a pre-existing will, therefore evaluate wills periodically.

If a will is void, the estate is split according to intestacy provisions (as above).

Make a will.

Unclaimed estates

When there are no known relatives, the Crown inherits. Bona vacantia are ownerless assets.

If you think you’re entitled to a Crown estate, search the unclaimed estates list.

When you claim a bona vacantia estate within 12 years of its administration, you’ll receive interest.
You can recover your portion up to 30 years after death, but no interest is paid.

To claim, send a family tree to the government’s Bona Vacantia Department (BVD). If the BVD believes your claim is valid, it may request a birth certificate and ID.

The BVD must be convinced you’re connected to the deceased and entitled to their assets.

If the BVD has previously accepted another relative’s claim, you must go via them.

Unwilled death risks

Without a will, your closest relatives may be disinherited. Common examples:

Even if you live together, unmarried partners won’t inherit if you die intestate. Only marriage or a will can leave your estate to your partner.
Stepchildren and foster children can’t inherit without a will.
In England and Wales, marriage invalidates earlier wills. Without a will, your estate will be split by intestacy. Your new husband will inherit most of your assets, leaving your children with nothing.
People’s needs aren’t considered. If a dependent can’t inherit, you may lose them.
Your estate may go to a distant or alienated relative.

Write a will to decide what happens to your estate and ensure loved ones get their portion. Our will-making guide explains the steps.