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In the UK, when someone dies without leaving a valid will, their estate is distributed according to a set of legal guidelines known as the rules of intestacy. These rules determine how the deceased person’s assets and property will be divided among their surviving relatives. Understanding the rules of intestacy is crucial for individuals to comprehend how their estate will be distributed if they pass away without a will.

“Who Inherits Under the Rules of Intestacy?”


The rules of intestacy prioritize certain relatives in the absence of a will. Typically, the deceased person’s spouse or civil partner will be the closest possible beneficiary in any situation. This is including if there are children. A spouse is above all else. The spouse can be removed from the line of intestacy via divorce or by predeceasing the intestate.

Children and Grandchildren

After spouses, the children are next in line to inherit from the estate. This varies in different countries with spouses and children splitting the estate a number of ways. However,  in the UK the spouse inherits, and if there is no spouse, through divorce or death, the children will inherit next. If the children have predeceased the intestate, their share would be passed down to their children if they exist, so the grandchildren will inherit. Grandchildren will only be entitled to their parents share and must split their parents share evenly between them.


In the absence of an existing or surviving spouse or children, the intestates parents will inherit the estate, providing they have outlived the deceased. Both parents will split the estate unless their child  (the deceased) was adopted out.


Following parents, in the absence of any of the above, the intestates siblings will inherit the estate. Although it may seem far down in the rules of intestacy, siblings inheriting is still fairly common with deceased estates. This can be especially common if someone who never had children passed away at an older age, outliving their spouse also. Siblings will inherit the estate equally.

Half siblings

Half siblings will inherit in the absence of full siblings. Unless they are legally adopted by both parents making them legally a full sibling, sadly half siblings will not inherit the same as full.   A half sibling will be left out of the inheritance entirely if full sibling are present or stated otherwise in a will.


This is the stage of intestacy where the family tree gets split into paternal and maternal lines. The deceased Fathers and Mothers lines going up to grandparents where the estate will be split evening for both paternal and maternal. This is of course only the case if all of the above relatives have passed or do not exist.

Uncles, Aunts and Cousins

Following Grandparents, their descendants will inherit. This means the Uncles and Aunts of the Intestate. Once again, this is split between the maternal and paternal lines so there can be numerous aunts and uncles on both sides. In any instance the estate will be split equally for everyone. Furthermore, there may be branches in the family tree where uncles and aunts have passed. In this instance the estate will go to their children, the intestates cousins. The cousins will only be entitled to their parents share and must split their share if there are multiple cousins. For instance, if there were 4 Uncles of  intestate and one passed away, the children of the deceased Uncle would only be entitled to his quarter of the estate. So if there were 2 children of this uncle they would split the quarter and receive 1/8th of the estate each.

Unmarried partners and divorce

Unmarried partners have no automatic right to inherit under the rules of intestacy, regardless of the length of their relationship. Without a will, they may not receive anything from the deceased’s estate. This highlights the importance of wills when you are in an unmarried partnership. Divorce also plays a role in the rules of intestacy. A divorce will nullify any intestacy rights between the two parties.  However, if you have separated but not legally divorced, the remaining party will still inherit as they are still legally a spouse. This is why it may be a good reason to divorce soon after a relationship has ended.

Do you need assistance?

Seeking legal advice is advisable for individuals who want to understand the implications of intestacy and ensure their estate is distributed according to their wishes. Creating a will allows individuals to specify how they want their assets to be distributed and can help avoid confusion and disputes among family members.

Understanding the rules of intestacy empowers individuals to take control of their estate planning and ensure that their assets are distributed in accordance with their wishes. Please contact us below for more advice or assistance with handling an estate.

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