When there is no Will

If someone dies and has not left a Will, the law sets out in the Rules of Intestacy who may inherit.

How this happens is determined by both the value of the estate and the relationships of surviving family members. No-one can inherit if they were not in a formal legal relationship with the person who died, either through marriage/civil partnership or by being a blood relation.

The term common-law husband or wife is often used, but this does not exist in law so unmarried partners do not inherit from their partner who has died. It would be helpful to take legal advice, however, because the situation may be complicated by assets that were owned jointly.

If an estate is valued at less than £250,000 a surviving spouse or civil partner will inherit the entire estate, provided they live for longer than 28 days after the death of the person who has died intestate.  If, for example, a wife died just 3 weeks after her husband, she would not inherit from him.  If the Rules of Intestacy apply this means the estate passes to his children or other relatives under the order of priority set by the Rules. This happens regardless of whether or not the wife who died second has made a Will, which becomes irrelevant.

For estates over £250,000 the position becomes more complex with the estate divided between a surviving spouse/civil partner and the children of the person who died. Step-children have no entitlement and neither does anyone else whose relationship to the person who died is by marriage. Adopted children have full rights equal to those with a blood relationship to the person who died.

If children are entitled to inherit under the Rules of Intestacy, if one of the entitled children has died before the current death, their share passes to their descendants if any. This applies to every level of entitled relatives.

See Example

Please do call us if you would like us to help you explore how the Rules of Intestacy apply in your circumstances.


NBS offers support, signposting and legal guidance following a bereavement, as well as offering guidance to anyone planning ahead in anticipation of their own death.

 Company number 09333323


0800 0246 121

Office 10, Consett Innovation Centre, Ponds Court Business Park, Genesis Way, Consett, County Durham, DH8 5XP

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