The rules of intestacy explained

It’s easy to assume that our property and possessions will automatically go to loved ones when we die, however, this is sadly not always the case

The rules of intestacy and inheritance law explained

When someone dies without a valid Will there are strict inheritance laws, often referred to as the Rules of Intestacy, which apply in England and Wales.

The Rules of Intestacy don’t allow for modern family relationships - for example the Rules of Intestacy:

  • make no provision for unmarried and unregistered partners. This means that on Intestacy, the surviving partner will not automatically inherit any of the property and possessions owned in the sole name of the deceased. However, a partner can often make a valid inheritance claim instead, or the family can legally vary the distribution on intestacy to provide for the partner.

  • only recognise natural and adopted children for the purpose of inheritance; they do not acknowledge step children. However, in many cases step children can often have a valid claim.

Under the Rules of Intestacy, the estate will be divided between their relatives as follows...

If the person who died was married or in a civil partnership and has no children, all of their estate will go to their spouse or civil partner.

If the person who died was married or in a civil relationship but does have children, the first £270,000 of their estate will go to their spouse or civil partner, along with any of their personal possessions. Anything over £270,000 will then be divided, with the spouse or civil partner receiving 50% of this and the children entitled to divide the other 50% between them.

If the person who died wasn't married or in a civil partnership, but was living with their long term partner, this partner will not be entitled to receive anything. Co-habiting partners and long term partners are not protected under the rules of intestacy. The law does not recognise the concept of a ‘common law spouse’.

If the person who died was't married or in a civil partnership, but does have children, the whole estate will go to them. If there are no children, then the estate could go to the parents, siblings or other relatives.

It is important to note that jointly held assets may not pass under the rules of intestacy but instead pass to the surviving joint owner. This is the case where a house is owned with someone else as ‘joint tenants’ or there's a joint bank account. It works differently for property owned jointly as 'tenants in common' though. For more information, see joint tenants and tenants in common.

The only way to make it absolutely clear who should inherit your property and possessions after you pass away is by making a Will.

Administering an estate under the Rules of Intestacy

When an adult person with assets, such as property, money and possessions, dies without a valid Will they are said to have died Intestate. In these circumstances the Rules of Intestacy will apply and these rules determine who will administer, and who will benefit from, the deceased’s Estate.

In these circumstances, before it can be determined who the beneficiaries are, the first step is to establish who should be administering the estate.

When identifying Estate administrators and beneficiaries, great care and diligence is required to avoid any mistakes being made, because an Estate Administrator can be held personally financially liable for any loss resulting from a breach of their duty, even if any mistakes made were genuine human error.

This is where our Probate and Estate Administration expertise has been invaluable for thousands of our customers across England and Wales. We offer a sympathetic ear when bereaved people need it most.

What is partial intestacy?

Partial intestacy is when the terms of the will don't actually deal with the whole of estate. This can happen if the will hasn't been properly drafted.

With partial intestacy, some assets are dealt with under the will, but other assets are dealt with in accordance with the rules of intestacy. This could happen if the will doesn't say what should happen to the rest of the estate after all the other gifts have been dealt with. Another example of when a partial intestacy might occur is if all of the beneficiaries named in the will have already died and no substitutes have been named.

The Co-op Probate team deals with over £500 million in Estates every year. Our team includes 20 specialist Probate Solicitors and Lawyers, plus over 150 Probate Consultants, Case Handlers and Advisors, making us one of the largest providers of probate services in England and Wales.

We can provide as much help and guidance as you require. We can:

  • help you understand who the Estate Administrators are in your case.
  • explain the duties, the responsibilities and the liabilities of an Estate Administrator.
  • explain the benefits of appointing us on your behalf to take on all the legal responsibilities of the Estate.

When you choose our Probate Complete Service we take on all the responsibility and potential liability associated with administering the Estate of the deceased. This includes dealing with Inheritance Tax, Income Tax, Capital Gains Tax (not VAT) and the legal responsibilities involved in liquidating or transferring the deceased’s assets and distributing the Estate to the beneficiaries.

Should you want to administer the Estate yourself, please be prepared to commit between 70 and 100 hours to administer the Estate over a period of up to 12 months, producing the highly detailed administrative and financial reports often required by the Court and HMRC. Additional time may also be required if a Trust is involved.

With our Probate Complete Service you will be provided with a dedicated case handler and expert service. Best of all, you will no longer have to bear the burdens and responsibilities for the effective administration of the Estate, giving you peace of mind.

As part of the Co-op Group our values of openness, honesty, social responsibility and caring for others are core to the service we provide.

Our customers consistently rate the quality of our legal advice and services at 4.4 out of 5 stars. See our Probate customer testimonials.

If someone has died and you need help with probate, contact us:

Authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority

Probate Estate Administration in England and Wales is not a reserved legal activity which means that unregulated providers can offer Probate Estate Administration services regardless of whether they are insured, experienced or qualified to provide a full Probate service.

Co-op Legal Services is the largest provider of Probate and Estate Administration services in England and Wales, trusted to deal with over £1.3 billion in Estates annually.

Our Probate team includes over 170 staff of specialist Probate Solicitors, Lawyers, Case Handlers, Advisors and our national network of Probate Consultants; all of whom only deal with Probate.

Co-op Legal Services is a trading name for Co-operative Legal Services Limited which is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, giving you peace of mind knowing that your Probate affairs are being dealt with by a regulated organisation and by a brand name you know and can trust.

Co-op Legal Services has over 600 staff working in different businesses with offices in Manchester, Bristol, Stratford-upon-Avon, Sheffield and London.