Quick Summary of Succession

Succession refers to the process by which property, assets, titles, rights, or responsibilities are transferred from one person or entity to another upon a specific event, such as death, retirement, or resignation. It commonly involves the passing of wealth, property, or power from one generation to the next within a family or from one entity to another, such as in the case of a business or organisation. Succession may occur through various means, including inheritance, appointment, election, or by operation of law. Proper planning for succession is often essential to ensure a smooth transition of assets and responsibilities and to minimise potential disputes or disruptions.

What is the dictionary definition of Succession?
Dictionary Definition of Succession

The passing of property or legal rights after death. The word commonly refers to the distribution of property under a state’s intestate succession laws, which determine who inherits property when someone dies without a valid will. When used in connection with real estate, the word refers to the passing of property by will or inheritance, as opposed to a gift, grant, or purchase.

Full Definition Of Succession

Succession, within the legal framework, pertains to the process by which the rights and obligations of a deceased person are transferred to their successors or heirs. This overview aims to delineate the fundamental aspects of succession law in the United Kingdom, focusing on the distinctions between testate and intestate succession, the legal mechanisms involved, and the implications for various stakeholders.

Introduction to Succession Law

Succession law, also known as the law of inheritance, governs the transfer of assets, liabilities, and property from the deceased to their beneficiaries. It ensures a structured and legally binding distribution of the decedent’s estate, minimizing disputes and providing clarity on the rightful heirs. The primary legislative frameworks governing succession in the UK include the Wills Act 1837, the Administration of Estates Act 1925, and the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

Types of Succession

Succession can be broadly categorized into two types:

Testate Succession

Testate succession occurs when the deceased has left a valid will. A will is a legal document that specifies how the decedent’s estate should be distributed among the beneficiaries. For a will to be considered valid, it must comply with the following criteria as per the Wills Act 1837:

  • The testator (person making the will) must be at least 18 years old.
  • The will must be in writing.
  • The testator must have the mental capacity to understand the implications of the will.
  • The will must be signed by the testator in the presence of two witnesses, who must also sign the document in the presence of the testator.

Intestate Succession

Intestate succession arises when a person dies without leaving a valid will. In such cases, the distribution of the estate is governed by statutory rules laid down in the Administration of Estates Act 1925. The rules of intestacy prioritize spouses, civil partners, and close blood relatives, providing a hierarchy for inheritance.

Key Elements of a Valid Will

To ensure a will is legally binding and enforceable, it must meet several essential requirements:

Testamentary Capacity

The testator must possess testamentary capacity, meaning they must understand the nature and effect of making a will, the extent of their property, and the claims of those who might expect to benefit. This capacity is crucial to prevent disputes over the validity of the will.

Voluntary Intention

The will must be made voluntarily, without any undue influence, coercion, or fraud. If it is proven that the testator was pressured or manipulated into making the will, it can be declared invalid.

Proper Execution

The execution of the will must comply with the formalities prescribed by the Wills Act 1837. This includes the requirement that the will be signed by the testator in the presence of two independent witnesses, who must also sign the document in the testator’s presence.

Executors and Administrators

The role of executors and administrators is pivotal in the administration of an estate.


An executor is a person appointed in the will to administer the estate of the deceased. The executor’s duties include collecting the assets, paying any debts and taxes, and distributing the remaining estate according to the will. The executor must act in the best interests of the beneficiaries and adhere to the terms of the will.


In the absence of a will, or if no executor is named, the court appoints an administrator to manage the estate. The administrator performs similar duties to an executor but must follow the rules of intestacy for the distribution of the estate.

Intestacy Rules

The rules of intestacy set out a strict hierarchy for the distribution of an estate when there is no valid will:

  • Spouse or Civil Partner: If the deceased leaves a spouse or civil partner and no children, the spouse or civil partner inherits the entire estate. If there are children, the spouse or civil partner receives the personal chattels, the first £270,000 of the estate, and half of the remainder, with the other half divided equally among the children.
  • Children: If there is no surviving spouse or civil partner, the entire estate is divided equally among the children.
  • Other Relatives: In the absence of a spouse, civil partner, or children, the estate passes to other relatives in a predefined order: parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins.
  • The Crown: If no relatives can be identified, the estate passes to the Crown as bona vacantia.

Claims Against the Estate

Under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975, certain individuals can make a claim against the estate if they believe they have not been adequately provided for. Eligible claimants include:

  • Spouses and civil partners.
  • Former spouses and civil partners who have not remarried.
  • Children of the deceased.
  • Persons treated as children of the family.
  • Dependents who were financially maintained by the deceased.

The court considers various factors, such as the claimant’s financial needs, the size of the estate, and the obligations of the deceased towards the claimant, when deciding on such claims.

Probate and Letters of Administration


Probate is the legal process of proving the validity of a will and obtaining the court’s authority to administer the estate. The executor named in the will applies for a grant of probate, which officially confirms their authority to act.

Letters of Administration

When there is no will, or the named executor is unable or unwilling to act, the court issues letters of administration to appoint an administrator. The letters grant the administrator the authority to manage and distribute the estate according to the rules of intestacy.

Trusts in Succession

Trusts can play a significant role in succession planning. A trust is a legal arrangement where one person (the trustee) holds and manages property for the benefit of another (the beneficiary). Trusts can be used to manage and protect assets, provide for minor children or vulnerable beneficiaries, and mitigate inheritance tax liabilities.

Types of Trusts

Common types of trusts in succession planning include:

  • Bare Trusts: The beneficiary has an absolute right to the trust assets and any income generated from them.
  • Life Interest Trusts: The beneficiary has the right to receive income from the trust assets during their lifetime, after which the assets pass to other beneficiaries.
  • Discretionary Trusts: The trustees have discretion over how to distribute the trust assets and income among the beneficiaries.

Inheritance Tax

Inheritance tax (IHT) is levied on the value of an estate above a certain threshold at the time of death. As of the 2023-2024 tax year, the standard IHT rate is 40%, and the threshold (nil-rate band) is £325,000. There are several exemptions and reliefs available, such as:

  • Spouse or Civil Partner Exemption: Transfers between spouses or civil partners are exempt from IHT.
  • Charitable Donations: Gifts to registered charities are exempt from IHT.
  • Residence Nil-Rate Band: An additional allowance for passing the family home to direct descendants.


Succession law in the United Kingdom provides a comprehensive framework for the transfer of assets and liabilities from the deceased to their heirs. Whether through testate or intestate succession, the law ensures that the distribution of the estate is conducted in an orderly and equitable manner. The involvement of executors, administrators, and the probate process helps safeguard the interests of all parties involved, while provisions for trusts and inheritance tax reliefs offer opportunities for effective estate planning. Understanding these legal principles is crucial for individuals and families to ensure their wishes are respected and their loved ones are provided for after their death.

Succession FAQ'S

Succession refers to the process by which a person’s property, assets, rights, and obligations are transferred to another person or entity upon their death.

A will is a legal document that specifies how a person’s assets and property should be distributed after their death. It is important for succession because it allows individuals to dictate their wishes and ensure their assets are distributed according to their preferences.

If someone dies without a will (intestate), their estate will be distributed according to the laws of intestacy in their jurisdiction, which typically prioritise distribution to surviving spouses, children, and other close relatives.

The individuals or entities eligible to inherit under succession laws vary depending on the jurisdiction but often include spouses, children, parents, siblings, and other close relatives. In some cases, non-relatives or charitable organisations may also be eligible beneficiaries.

An executor (if named in a will) or administrator (if no executor is named or no will exists) is responsible for managing the deceased person’s estate, including gathering assets, paying debts and taxes, and distributing assets to beneficiaries according to the terms of the will or the laws of intestacy.

Yes, succession can be challenged in court through a legal process known as probate litigation. Common reasons for challenging succession include disputes over the validity of the will, allegations of undue influence or coercion, or claims of improper administration of the estate.

Probate assets are those that must go through the probate process before being distributed to beneficiaries, while non-probate assets pass directly to designated beneficiaries outside of probate. Examples of non-probate assets include life insurance proceeds, retirement accounts with designated beneficiaries, and assets held in trusts.

Yes, effective succession planning can help minimise estate taxes and avoid the probate process by utilising strategies such as creating trusts, establishing joint ownership with rights of survivorship, making lifetime gifts, and using tax-efficient estate planning techniques.

To start the succession planning process, individuals should consult with an estate planning attorney to review their assets, discuss their goals and wishes, and create a comprehensive plan that addresses the distribution of assets, guardianship for minor children, healthcare directives, and other important considerations.

Yes, succession laws can vary significantly between jurisdictions, including differences in intestacy laws, probate procedures, tax regulations, and rules governing wills and trusts. It is essential to consult with legal professionals familiar with the laws of the relevant jurisdiction when planning for succession.

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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: 10th June 2024.

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