When someone dies without leaving a valid will, their property must be distributed according to the rules of intestacy. These rules also come into play in cases of partial intestacy, when someone dies leaving a will that disposes of some but not all of their estate. In partial intestacies, the rules apply only to the distribution of property that is not covered by the will.

The headings below set out the rules for intestate succession in England and Wales. Please note that:

  • a husband, wife or civil partner must have survived the deceased by 28 days if they are to be classified as a beneficiary;
  • under the rules of intestacy, a partner who wasn't married or in a civil partnership with the deceased at the time of death has no automatic right to inherit;
  • legally adopted sons and daughters are classified as the deceased’s children; however, stepchildren cannot inherit under the intestacy rules;
  • a half-blood sibling is a brother or sister who shares one parent with the deceased;
  • a half-blood aunt or uncle is the child of one of the deceased’s grandparents.

For a clear explanation of how the rules of intestate succession apply in a particular case, please look through the scenarios below and click the first one that matches the family situation of the case in question.

The deceased is survived by a spouse, children or other descendants.

The Inheritance and Trustees' Power Act, which came into effect on 1 October 2014, made a number of changes to the intestacy rules. Broadly, these ensure that estate distribution is more favourable to the deceased's surviving spouse or civil partner.

CASE 1   CHILDREN✔   SPOUSE✘

In England and Wales, when someone dies intestate with no surviving spouse or civil partner, but with surviving children or other descendants, the whole estate passes to the children in equal shares. In cases where a son or daughter has died, their share of the inheritance will be divided among their children.

CASE 2   CHILDREN✔   SPOUSE✔
For deaths that took place before 1 October 2014

In England and Wales, when someone has died intestate, leaving a spouse or civil partner and surviving children or other descendants:

  • the spouse or civil partner inherits the personal effects or chattels of the deceased, the first £250,000 of the estate (£125,000 if the death was before 1 February 2009) and a life interest in half of the remaining estate. This means that in cases where the estate is less than £250,000 (£125,000 if the death was before 1 February 2009), the spouse or civil partner will inherit the whole of the estate;
  • the children inherit the other half of the remaining estate. In cases where a son or daughter has died, their share of the inheritance will be divided among their children.  Note that children or their surviving issue also receive the half of the remaining estate in which the spouse had a life interest upon the death of the spouse.
For deaths that took place on or after 1 October 2014

In England and Wales, when someone dies intestate, leaving a spouse or civil partner and surviving children or other descendants:

  • the spouse or civil partner inherits the personal effects or chattels of the deceased, the first £250,000 of the estate and half of the remaining estate. This means that in cases where the estate is less than £250,000 the spouse or civil partner will inherit the whole of the estate;
  • the children inherit the other half of the remaining estate. In cases where a son or daughter has died, their share of the inheritance will be divided among their children.
CASE 3   CHILDREN✘   SPOUSE✔
For deaths that took place before 1 October 2014

In England and Wales, when someone has died intestate, leaving a spouse or civil partner, but no surviving children or other descendants, it is important to investigate whether the deceased is survived by parents, brothers and sisters, or nieces and nephews.

When there are no surviving parents, brothers and sisters, or nieces and nephews, the deceased's spouse or civil partner will inherit the whole estate.

When there are surviving parents, brothers and sisters or nieces and nephews:

  • the deceased’s spouse or civil partner will inherit the personal effects or chattels of the deceased, the first £450,000 of the estate (£200,000 if the death was before 1 February 2009), and half of the remaining estate absolutely;
  • the surviving relatives will inherit the other half of the remaining estate, in the following order of priority:
    1. parents (where one or both parents survive, they will inherit half of the remaining estate absolutely);
    2. siblings (where both parents have died, the deceased’s brothers and sisters share half of the remaining estate). In cases where a brother or sister has died, their share of the inheritance will be divided among their children, the deceased’s nieces and nephews.
For deaths that took place on or after 1 October 2014

In England and Wales, when someone dies intestate, leaving a spouse or civil partner, but no surviving children or other descendants, the spouse or civil partner will inherit the whole of the estate.

The deceased is survived by a parent.

In England and Wales, when someone dies intestate, leaving no spouse, surviving children or other descendants, their whole estate is shared equally between the surviving parents.

The deceased is survived by siblings or their descendants.

The intestacy rules for England and Wales state that when there is no surviving spouse, children, other descendants or parents, the estate will pass in its entirety to the deceased’s full-blood brothers and sisters. In cases where a brother or sister has died, their share of the inheritance will be divided among their children.

The deceased is survived by half-blood siblings or their descendants.

The rules of intestacy for England and Wales stipulate that an estate must pass in its entirety to the deceased’s half-blood siblings or their descendants when there is no surviving:

  • spouse or civil partner
  • children or other descendants
  • parents
  • full-blood brothers and sisters or their descendants.

In cases where a half-blood brother or sister has died, their share of the inheritance will be divided among their children.

The deceased is survived by grandparents.

The intestacy rules for England and Wales stipulate that an estate must pass in its entirety to the deceased’s grandparents, when there is no surviving:

  • spouse or civil partner
  • children or other descendants
  • parents
  • full-blood brothers and sisters or their descendants
  • half-blood brothers and sisters or their descendants.
The deceased is survived by uncles and aunts or their descendants.

The intestacy rules for England and Wales stipulate that an estate must pass in its entirety to the deceased’s full-blood uncles and aunts or their descendants when there is no surviving:

  • spouse or civil partner
  • children or other descendants
  • parents
  • full-blood brothers and sisters or their descendants
  • half-blood brothers and sisters or their descendants
  • grandparents.

In cases where an aunt or uncle has died, their share of the inheritance will be divided among their children.

The deceased is survived by uncles and aunts of the half blood or their descendants.

The rules for intestate succession in England and Wales stipulate that an estate must pass in its entirety to the deceased’s uncles and aunts of the half blood or their descendants  when there is no surviving:

  • spouse or civil partner
  • children or other descendants
  • parents
  • full-blood brothers and sisters or their descendants
  • half-blood siblings or their descendants
  • grandparents
  • full-blood uncles and aunts or their descendants.

In cases where a half-blood aunt or uncle has died, their share of the inheritance will be divided among their children.

None of the relatives mentioned above survive the deceased.

In England and Wales, the estate is classed as ownerless property (‘Bona Vacantia’) and passes to the Crown or, in Cornwall and Lancashire, to the relevant Duchy.