Full Overview Of Intestacy

Intestacy occurs when a person passes away without a valid will or other binding declaration. This situation can lead to complex legal consequences, unintentional asset distributions, disputes among heirs, and financial complications. At DLS Solicitors, we understand the importance of comprehending intestacy and its significant impact on families and beneficiaries. This detailed overview aims to clarify the principles of intestacy, the rules governing estate distribution, and the potential issues that may arise, offering clear guidance for our clients.

Understanding Intestacy

Intestacy occurs when a person dies without leaving a valid will. In such cases, the estate is distributed according to the rules of intestacy, which are predetermined legal guidelines. These rules vary across different jurisdictions, but in England and Wales, they are governed by the Administration of Estates Act 1925 and the Inheritance and Trustees’ Powers Act 2014.

The Rules of Intestacy

The rules of intestacy determine who is entitled to inherit from the estate. These rules prioritise certain family members over others, and the distribution depends on the surviving relatives of the deceased. Here is a general outline of the intestacy rules in England and Wales:

  1. Spouse or Civil Partner: If the deceased was married or in a civil partnership at the time of death, the spouse or civil partner inherits the majority, if not all, of the estate, depending on the presence of other relatives.
  2. Children: If there are children (including legally adopted children but excluding stepchildren unless legally adopted), they inherit a share of the estate. If the estate exceeds a certain value, the spouse or civil partner receives a statutory legacy, and the remaining estate is divided between the spouse or civil partner and the children.
  3. Parents: If there is no surviving spouse, civil partner, or children, the deceased’s parents inherit the estate.
  4. Siblings: If there are no surviving parents, the estate passes to siblings or their descendants.
  5. Other Relatives: If none of the above relatives are alive, more distant relatives such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, and their descendants may inherit the estate.
  6. The Crown: If the deceased has no surviving relatives, the estate passes to the Crown, known as bona vacantia.

Partial Intestacy

Partial intestacy occurs when a will exists but does not effectively dispose of the entire estate. This can happen if certain assets are not included in the will or if beneficiaries predecease the testator and no contingent beneficiaries are named. In such cases, the undistributed assets are subject to the rules of intestacy.

Implications of Intestacy

Dying intestate can have significant implications for the distribution of an estate and the financial well-being of surviving family members. Understanding these implications is crucial for estate planning and ensuring that one’s wishes are honoured.

Unintended Beneficiaries

One of the primary concerns with intestacy is that it may result in the estate being distributed to unintended beneficiaries. The rules of intestacy follow a strict hierarchy of relatives, which may not align with the deceased’s wishes. For instance, unmarried partners or stepchildren are not recognised under intestacy rules, potentially leaving them without any inheritance.

Potential Disputes

Intestacy can lead to disputes among surviving relatives, particularly in blended families or situations where the deceased’s wishes were informally expressed but not legally documented. Disagreements over the distribution of assets can strain familial relationships and result in costly legal battles.

Financial Hardship

The distribution of assets under intestacy rules may not provide adequately for the surviving spouse or dependents. For example, the statutory legacy received by a spouse may be insufficient to maintain their standard of living, leading to financial hardship.

Delays in Estate Administration

Administering an intestate estate can be more complex and time-consuming than administering an estate with a valid will. Identifying and locating all eligible beneficiaries, especially in the case of distant relatives, can cause significant delays in the distribution process.

Avoiding Intestacy

To avoid the complications associated with intestacy, it is essential to engage in proactive estate planning. Here are some key steps individuals can take to ensure their assets are distributed according to their wishes:

Creating a Valid Will

The most effective way to avoid intestacy is to create a valid will. A will allows individuals to specify how their estate should be distributed, name executors to administer the estate, and appoint guardians for minor children. It is advisable to seek legal assistance when drafting a will to ensure it meets all legal requirements and accurately reflects the individual’s intentions.

Regularly Updating the Will

Life circumstances change, and it is important to update a will to reflect these changes. Births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and significant acquisitions or dispositions of assets should prompt a review and potential update of the will.

Using Trusts

Trusts can be an effective estate planning tool to manage and protect assets. By placing assets in a trust, individuals can provide for beneficiaries in a controlled manner, potentially reducing the risk of disputes and ensuring that assets are used for their intended purposes.

Considering Joint Ownership

Joint ownership of property and accounts can help avoid intestacy for those specific assets, as they typically pass directly to the surviving owner. However, it is important to understand the implications of joint ownership and consider it as part of a broader estate planning strategy.

Communicating Wishes

Openly discussing estate plans with family members can help ensure that everyone understands the individual’s wishes and reduce the likelihood of disputes. While these discussions may be difficult, they can provide clarity and peace of mind for all parties involved.

The Role of Solicitors in Estate Planning

At DLS Solicitors, we understand the complexities of estate planning and the importance of avoiding intestacy. Our experienced team is dedicated to providing personalised legal advice and support to ensure that our client’s wishes are honoured and their loved ones are provided for.

Drafting and Reviewing Wills

Our solicitors can assist clients in drafting comprehensive and legally sound wills. We take the time to understand our clients’ unique circumstances and objectives, ensuring that their wills accurately reflect their intentions. We also offer will review services to ensure that existing wills remain up-to-date and effective.

Trust and Estate Planning

We provide expert advice on the use of trusts and other estate planning tools to manage and protect assets. Our solicitors work closely with clients to develop tailored strategies that address their specific needs and goals.

Probate and Estate Administration

In the unfortunate event of a death, our solicitors offer compassionate and efficient probate and estate administration services. We guide executors and administrators through the legal process, ensuring that estates are administered in accordance with the law and the deceased’s wishes.

Dispute Resolution

Disputes can arise in the context of intestacy or even with a valid will. Our solicitors are skilled in dispute resolution and can assist clients in navigating contentious situations, striving for amicable solutions while protecting our clients’ interests.


Intestacy can create challenges and potential complications in estate distribution. Understanding the rules of intestacy and the implications of dying without a valid will is crucial for effective estate planning. By proactively creating and maintaining a valid will, individuals can ensure their wishes are honoured, and their loved ones are provided for.

At DLS Solicitors, we are committed to helping our clients navigate the complexities of estate planning and avoid the pitfalls of intestacy. Our comprehensive legal services are designed to provide peace of mind and ensure that each client’s unique circumstances and objectives are addressed.

In summary, intestacy can lead to unintended distributions, potential disputes, financial hardship, and delays in estate administration. By taking proactive steps, such as creating a valid will, regularly updating it, and considering other estate planning tools, individuals can avoid these complications and ensure that their legacy is preserved according to their wishes. At DLS Solicitors, we are here to support our clients every step of the way, offering expert advice and personalised services to meet their estate planning needs.

Intestacy FAQ'S

Intestacy occurs when a person dies without leaving a valid Will. In such cases, their estate is distributed according to the rules of intestacy set out in the UK law.

The inheritance hierarchy typically follows this order: spouse or civil partner, children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, and more distant relatives. The specific distribution depends on who survives the deceased.

No, common-law partners (unmarried partners) do not have automatic rights to inherit under the rules of intestacy. They must make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 to seek provision from the estate.

If there is a surviving spouse or civil partner and no children, the spouse or civil partner inherits the entire estate.

The surviving spouse receives the first £270,000 of the estate, all personal possessions, and half of the remaining estate. The other half of the remaining estate is divided equally among the children.

Stepchildren do not have automatic inheritance rights under the rules of intestacy unless they were legally adopted by the deceased. Biological children of the deceased are prioritised.

Yes, the rules of intestacy can be challenged through the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Eligible applicants, such as dependents, may seek reasonable financial provision from the estate.

The court appoints an administrator, typically a close relative, to handle the estate administration. They apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration to gain legal authority to manage the estate.

The administrator collects and values the estate’s assets, pays any debts and taxes, and then distributes the remaining assets according to the rules of intestacy. This involves identifying and locating all eligible heirs.


This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 11th July 2024.

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Our team of professionals are based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. We offer clear, specialist legal advice in all matters relating to Family Law, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Lasting Power of Attorney and Court of Protection.

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