Intestacy: what happens if you die without a wiIl?

When an individual dies without leaving a valid will, they are said to have died intestate. This might happen if they:

  • do not make a will;
  • revoke a will – for example by getting married or entering into a civil partnership or physically destroying their will; or 
  • make a will that is not valid. 

If you already have a will but it hasn’t been updated in some years or since a major life event, see our guide: Is it time to review your will? 

Why dying intestate can be problematic

If someone dies intestate in England and Wales, the legal rules of intestacy apply. As a result, it’s likely that the deceased’s assets will not pass to the people they expect, in the way they would have wanted. 

Unsurprisingly, the intestacy rules are complicated. Their application depends on the facts of the case at the relevant time – for example, whether a person was married or in a civil partnership, or had any children.

Under the intestacy rules, a co-habitant would not receive anything and a step-child would not fall within the meaning of issue (direct descendants such as a child or grandchild).

How the intestacy rules are applied: examples

To illustrate how the rules apply, we’ve set out two common scenarios in relation to a death after 1 October 2014.

Scenario 1: the deceased leaves a surviving spouse or civil partner and two surviving children

The net estate of the deceased, say £1m, is broadly speaking distributed as follows:

  • spouse/civil partner receives all personal chattels;
  • spouse/civil partner receives legacy of £270,000;
  • balance of the estate is split into two equal shares;
  • spouse / civil partner receives the first share outright; and
  • children take the second share, in equal shares outright, when they reach 18 (or on earlier marriage).

Scenario 2: the deceased dies leaving no surviving spouse or civil partner

Where there is no surviving spouse or civil partner but the deceased leaves blood relatives, the net estate would pass in the following order, but only passing down to the next level if there is no one in the preceding categories.

  1. Children
  2. Parents equally if they are both alive
  3. Brothers and sisters
  4. Half brothers and sisters
  5. Grandparents equally if more than one of them is alive
  6. Uncles and aunts
  7. Half uncles and aunts.

If there are no blood relatives to inherit, the deceased’s estate would pass to the Crown.

We can help

The best way to avoid the intestacy rules and the consequences of them is to make a will setting out exactly what you want to happen to your personal effects and assets when you pass away. 

If it’s time you made a will and you would like more information on this subject, please get in touch with