Total Intestacy

Total Intestacy
Total Intestacy
Full Overview Of Total Intestacy

Probate can be a complex and often misunderstood area of law. At DLS Solicitors, we recognise the challenges faced by individuals dealing with the affairs of a deceased loved one, especially when total intestacy is involved. This overview is designed to provide a comprehensive understanding of total intestacy, addressing its implications, the legal process involved, and the rights of beneficiaries. We aim to demystify the subject, offering clarity and guidance for those navigating this rugged terrain.

What is Total Intestacy?

Total intestacy occurs when a person dies without leaving a valid will. In such cases, the distribution of their estate is governed by the rules of intestacy, which are set out in the Inheritance and Trustees’ Powers Act 2014 (ITPA 2014) and the Administration of Estates Act 1925. These rules determine who inherits the deceased’s assets, prioritising close family members, spouses, or civil partners.

Intestacy Rules

The intestacy rules are a set of statutory provisions that dictate how the estate of a person who dies intestate (without a valid will) will be distributed. The fundamental principles are as follows:

Spouse or Civil Partner: The surviving spouse or partner is entitled to a significant portion of the estate if the deceased was married or in a civil partnership. This includes:

  • Personal chattels (personal possessions such as cars, jewellery, furniture).
  • A statutory legacy is a fixed sum of money (currently £270,000).
  • Half of the remaining estate.

Children: If the deceased has children, they are entitled to the other half of the remaining estate after the spouse or civil partner’s share. If there are no children, the spouse or civil partner inherits the entire estate.

Other Relatives: If there is no surviving spouse or civil partner, the estate is distributed among other relatives in a specific order:

  • Children (or their descendants if they predeceased the deceased).
  • Parents.
  • Siblings.
  • Half-siblings.
  • Grandparents.
  • Uncles and aunts (whole blood).
  • Uncles and aunts (half-blood).

Crown: If there are no surviving relatives, the estate passes to the Crown under the doctrine of bona vacantia.

Process of Administering an Intestate Estate

Administering an intestate estate involves several steps, which can be complex and time-consuming. The process typically includes the following stages:

  1. Identifying the Administrator: Without a will appointing executors, an administrator must be identified. This is usually the closest living relative, such as a spouse, child, or parent. The administrator manages the estate and distributes the assets according to the intestacy rules.
  2. Applying for Letters of Administration: The administrator must apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration from the Probate Registry. This legal document gives them the authority to deal with the deceased’s estate.
  3. Valuing the Estate: The administrator must identify and value all the deceased’s assets and liabilities. This includes property, bank accounts, investments, personal possessions, and any debts the deceased owes.
  4. Paying Debts and Taxes: The administrator is responsible for paying the estate’s outstanding debts and taxes. This may include inheritance tax, payable on estates above a certain value (currently £325,000).
  5. Distributing the Estate: Once all debts and taxes have been paid, the administrator can distribute the remaining estate according to the intestacy rules. This involves transferring assets to the rightful beneficiaries.

Rights of Beneficiaries

Beneficiaries under the intestacy rules have specific rights and entitlements. These include:

  1. Right to Information: Beneficiaries have the right to be informed about the administration of the estate and to receive regular updates from the administrator.
  2. Right to Inherit: Beneficiaries are entitled to receive their share of the estate as determined by the intestacy rules. This may include property, money, and personal possessions.
  3. Right to Challenge: Beneficiaries have the right to challenge the estate administration if they believe the administrator is not fulfilling their duties correctly. This may involve legal action to remove the administrator or to seek compensation for any losses incurred.

Common Challenges in Total Intestacy

Administering an intestate estate can be fraught with challenges and complications. Some common issues include:

  1. Identifying Beneficiaries: Tracing all potential beneficiaries can be difficult, particularly in cases where the deceased had distant relatives or complex family relationships. This may require extensive genealogical research and legal assistance.
  2. Disputes Among Beneficiaries: Disagreements between beneficiaries can arise over the distribution of the estate, particularly if there are conflicting claims or misunderstandings about the intestacy rules. Mediation or legal intervention may be necessary to resolve such disputes.
  3. Complex Assets: Valuing and distributing complex assets, such as businesses, overseas property, or significant investments, can be challenging. Professional advice from solicitors, valuers, and financial advisors is often required.
  4. Debts and Liabilities: Dealing with the deceased’s debts and liabilities can be a complex and time-consuming process. This may involve negotiating with creditors, settling outstanding bills, and ensuring all taxes are paid.
  5. Inheritance Tax: Calculating and paying inheritance tax can be a significant burden, particularly for larger estates. The administrator must ensure that the correct amount of tax is paid and that all necessary documentation is submitted to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).

Practical Considerations

For those dealing with total intestacy, there are several practical considerations to keep in mind:

  1. Professional Advice: Seeking professional advice from solicitors, accountants, and financial advisors is essential to navigate the complexities of intestacy and ensure that the estate is administered correctly.
  2. Record Keeping: Maintaining detailed records of all assets, liabilities, and transactions is crucial for the administration process. This includes keeping copies of correspondence, receipts, and legal documents.
  3. Communication: Open and transparent communication with beneficiaries is vital to manage expectations and avoid disputes. Regular updates on the progress of the administration and clear explanations of the intestacy rules can help to maintain harmony among beneficiaries.
  4. Time Management: Administering an intestate estate can be a lengthy process, often taking several months or even years to complete. Managing time effectively and setting realistic timelines for each stage of the process is essential.
  5. Emotional Support: Dealing with the death of a loved one is an emotional and stressful experience. Seeking support from friends, family, or professional counsellors can help to cope with the emotional burden of administering an estate.

Case Studies

To illustrate the complexities and challenges of total intestacy, we present two case studies that highlight common scenarios and issues that may arise.

Case Study 1: The Smith Family

John Smith passed away suddenly without leaving a will. His wife, Mary, and their two children, Emily and James, survived him. John’s estate included a family home, several bank accounts, a pension, and some personal possessions.


  • Valuing the Estate: The family home needed to be valued for inheritance tax purposes. This involved obtaining professional valuations and dealing with HMRC.
  • Distributing Assets: Mary was entitled to the personal chattels, the statutory legacy, and half of the remaining estate. The other half was divided equally between Emily and James, requiring careful calculation and legal documentation.
  • Inheritance Tax: The estate exceeded the inheritance tax threshold, so the administrator had to calculate and pay the tax before distributing the assets.

Outcome: With the assistance of professional advisors, Mary successfully administered the estate, ensuring that all debts and taxes were paid and the assets were distributed according to the intestacy rules. The process took several months, but clear communication and meticulous record-keeping helped to avoid disputes and delays.

Case Study 2: The Johnson Family

Sarah Johnson died intestate, leaving behind a complex estate that included a small business, overseas property, and several investment accounts. She was survived by her three children from two different marriages and her elderly parents.


  • Identifying Beneficiaries: Tracing all potential beneficiaries required extensive genealogical research and legal assistance, particularly as Sarah had children from two different marriages.
  • Valuing Complex Assets: The small business and overseas property needed professional valuations, which involved legal and financial expertise from multiple jurisdictions.
  • Disputes Among Beneficiaries: The children from different marriages had conflicting claims and disagreements over the distribution of the estate, leading to legal disputes.

Outcome: With the help of solicitors and financial advisors, the administrator resolved the disputes and successfully distributed the estate. This involved mediation, legal intervention, and professional advice to ensure the assets were valued and distributed correctly. The process took over a year to complete, but the administrator’s diligence and commitment to transparent communication helped to achieve a fair outcome for all beneficiaries.


Total intestacy can be a challenging and complex area of law, but understanding the rules and processes involved can help to navigate this rugged terrain. At DLS Solicitors, we are committed to providing expert advice and support to those dealing with intestate estates. Our goal is to ensure that the administration process is handled efficiently and fairly, respecting the rights of beneficiaries and complying with the legal framework.

If you are facing the challenges of total intestacy, we encourage you to seek professional advice and support. Our team of experienced solicitors is here to help, offering guidance and assistance every step of the way. Whether you are an administrator or a beneficiary, we are dedicated to ensuring the process is as smooth and stress-free as possible.

Remember, dealing with the death of a loved one is never easy. Still, with the proper support and guidance, you can navigate the complexities of total intestacy and ensure that the estate is administered in accordance with the law and the wishes of the deceased.

Total Intestacy FAQ'S

Total intestacy occurs when a person dies without leaving a valid will, resulting in their entire estate being distributed according to the rules of intestacy. These rules dictate how the deceased’s estate is divided among surviving relatives.

Under the rules of intestacy, the estate is distributed to the deceased’s closest living relatives. This typically includes the spouse or civil partner, children, and other relatives such as parents, siblings, and nieces or nephews. The specific distribution depends on which relatives survive the deceased.

No, cohabiting partners (those not married or in a civil partnership) do not have automatic rights to inherit under the intestacy rules. They would need to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 if they were financially dependent on the deceased.

If there are no surviving relatives eligible to inherit under the intestacy rules, the estate passes to the Crown as bona vacantia. The Treasury Solicitor handles such estates, and the assets may be claimed by the government.

If the deceased leaves a spouse or civil partner and children, the spouse receives the first £270,000 of the estate, all personal possessions, and half of the remaining estate. The other half is divided equally among the children.

If there are no children, the spouse or civil partner inherits the entire estate. No other relatives will inherit if a spouse or civil partner survives the deceased and there are no descendants.

Stepchildren are not entitled to inherit under the intestacy rules unless they have been legally adopted by the deceased. Only biological and legally adopted children are recognised.

No, adopted children do not inherit from their biological parents under intestacy rules. They inherit from their adoptive parents as if they were the biological children of the adoptive parents.

If someone believes they are entitled to inherit under intestacy, they should contact the Probate Registry to obtain a grant of representation. This legal document authorises them to administer the deceased’s estate according to the intestacy rules.

Yes, certain individuals, such as dependants or those who were financially supported by the deceased, can challenge the distribution under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. They must prove that the intestacy distribution does not provide reasonable financial provision for them.


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: 15th 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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