Intestacy rules: dying without a will

Intestacy rules: dying without a will

A great number of .  27 million people in the UK have not made one – that’s around a half to two thirds of the adult population. 

Even where a will is made, it often turns out to be invalid.  This might be because the deceased failed to comply with the strict requirements of the Wills Act; or lacked the requisite mental capacity; or was unduly influenced by someone else; or the will may have been automatically revoked upon divorce or the end of a civil partnership. 

In such cases, a person is said to have died intestate.


Intestacy can be total or partial.  Total intestacy occurs if there is no valid will.  Partial intestacy occurs if there is a valid will, but it does not say how all the deceased’s assets should be distributed.  In either case, all or part of the deceased’s estate must be distributed according to the intestacy rules.

Intestacy rules

The below diagram summarises how an estate is distributed among the surviving relatives of a person who has died intestate:



(1) “Personal chattels” is a legal term used to describe someone’s personal belongings, such as cars, jewellery, clothes, and furniture.

(2) The “statutory legacy” is the amount a surviving spouse (or civil partner) may inherit before the rest of the deceased’s estate is distributed.  For example, if the deceased was married, had one child, and left an estate valued at £500,000, the surviving spouse would receive £375,000 (i.e., a statutory legacy of £250,000 plus a life interest in £125,000); and the surviving child would take the remainder (i.e., £125,000).

(3) Certain assets pass independently of the intestacy rules.  For example, jointly owned property (e.g., held in ) may pass automatically to the surviving joint owner(s).   for more information.

So why bother writing a will?

Intestacy is time-consuming and stressful.  It can take many months, sometimes years, to gain access to assets after a person dies.  In the meantime, bills can pile up for those financially dependent on you.  To learn more, read .

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