Intestacy Rules

Intestacy Rules: What You Need to Know

What happens to your assets if you die without a will? This is a question that many people are not aware of the answer to. In this blog post, we'll break down the intestacy rules to help you understand what might happen to your assets & how they may be distributed.

Intestacy Rules

Intestacy Rules

What Is Intestacy?

You might be asking yourself,

Intestacy refers to the laws governing what happens to a person’s estate when they die without leaving behind a will. In most cases, this means that the deceased individual’s assets are distributed per state law or under their last choice.

There is no federal law for intestacy purposes because each state has its own set of regulations that dictate who receives an individual’s property if there is no last will or trust agreement present at death. Some states have adopted mandatory wills and trusts. Still, even then, it can vary from county to county within one state, so make sure you research your specific location before assuming anything.

Intestacy rules

Intestacy Rules

Are framed to ensure that the distribution of assets is fair and just. Certain people are legally entitled, by law, to a share of an individual’s estate if there is no last will or trust agreement present at death. For example:

The spouse and children who have not been previously divorced from the deceased parent;

A surviving spouse may get everything while the children might only receive a certain percentage (depending on how many they have) depending on what state you live in;


If siblings die before their parents, it’s up to them whether they want anything, but for grandparents or grandchildren, it can depend on where you live as some states give preference over others.

Intestacy rules take into account all those individuals related by blood, adoption, marriage, or civil union.

Intestacy in Scotland

In Scotland, intestacy rules1 are different from those in England and Wales.

Intestacy law is not just about the distribution of an estate – it can also affect the administration process.

Different countries have laws on what happens when someone dies without leaving a will or trust agreement behind.

The spouse may receive everything while children might only get a certain percentage (depending on how many they have) depending on where you live; grandparents or grandchildren could be entitled to something too, but again this depends on which state you live in.

On the other hand,

If siblings die before parents, then it’s up to them whether they want anything from the inheritance. Still, some states give preference over others for grandparents and grandchildren, e.g., if a grandchild dies before a grandparent, their share is divided among those living.

The rules can affect other family members too, such as cousins or uncles and aunts – it all depends on what you’re entitled to; again, this will vary depending on where in the world you live.

It’s essential to know about these intestacy laws because when people die without leaving behind a will, they might not want some of these things happening, which could cause division within families, e.g. if your children only get half of everything. In contrast, someone else gets more than that (depending on which state) because there was no agreement made beforehand. You should take time out now and discuss with your loved ones, so everyone knows how wealth distribution happens after death.

Administering an intestate estate

Administering an Intestate Estate

It can be complicated than you might think, and there are some things to keep in mind before making decisions on behalf of someone who has died without leaving behind a will; for example, if the person had children under 18, then they may have guardianship rights which would make it hard for an executor (the person appointed by the court).

Keep in mind,

The rules surrounding administration vary from state to state, too, which could also complicate matters further. It’s essential to know about these intestacy laws because when people die without leaving behind a will, they might not want some of these things happening, which could cause division within families, e.g. if your children only get half of everything. In contrast, someone else gets the other half.

The person who dies without a will is often called an intestate or the decedent in legal terms, and it’s their estate that needs to be sorted out, with this being done by either one of three parties:

  • The executor; not always possible because they might have died too, so someone else has to take on responsibility for sorting things out
  • A curator (the person appointed by the court)
  • An administrator; again, not always possible because he may also die before finishing his work. He would then need another party taking over from him, which could be any of those three options depending on what state you live in.

It’s essential to know about these intestacy laws when planning your affairs because if you have a will, then the executor has one less thing to worry about.

When is a will invalid

When Is a Will Invalid?

A will is invalid if the person who has written it was too young when they did it, younger than 18 years. If someone under that age has been nominated as an executor in a will, any other person can act as executor instead.

So you have to make sure there are at least two people with power of attorney for this estate planning task or select some alternative start date such as their 21st birthday. This reduces the risk of one death rendering everything defunct because another party cannot carry out tasks due to a lack of experience or education about these matters.

It’s also essential for parents to be aware that a will is invalid if they have not been nominated as executor, even in the event of their death. If you will be inheriting an estate or there has recently been some significant change, and you think this may affect your inheritance, then it’s vital to get legal advice on what your rights are. It can’t hurt us to take care of these things early on, so we don’t need to worry about them later.

Bona Vacantia – Unclaimed Estates

Bona vacantia2 refers to the state of an estate when there is no one alive who can take possession of it. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have a right to share in this estate or inheritance, and your rights are enshrined by Intestacy law.

In England and Wales, any property left behind, if there is nobody with a legal claim, will be passed on according to what’s known as “Intestate succession”. The rules around Intestate succession differ depending on whether somebody was married or not. If they were unmarried at the time of death, their assets must go into the intestate pool for those without spouses before being distributed to the next generation.

Simply put:

If somebody is married or in a civil partnership, their estate will be divided into two parts – one for themselves and their spouse/civil partner.

To ensure that you can benefit from any unclaimed assets should they arise, you must have a Will with clear instructions on how your life insurance policies would be dealt with if something were to happen without warning. This way, there’s no question about who gets what after death, and we can rest easy knowing that our loved ones will not suffer financially because of us when we’ve gone.

Risks of dying without a will

Risks of Dying without a Will

If you die without a will, the law dictates who gets your assets. In England and Wales, this is called Intestacy rules – if somebody dies intestate, their estate goes to their spouse or civil partner first (unless they have children from another relationship).

If there’s nobody in that position, then it’ll go to parents, grandparents, etc., but only after any other lineal descendants such as siblings and cousins.

Finally, if none of those people exists because someone died childlessly, the real estate would be inherited by distant relatives with no connection to the person who died.

If you have a will, your assets and other property will be divided among the people to whom you’ve left them in what’s called a “devise.”


The estate can also only go to someone if they are mentioned explicitly by name in the will (although there are some exceptions for spouses) or appointed as executor of your estate. Otherwise, it would go according to Intestacy rules. This is why wills are so important.

Common Questions

What is considered intestate property?

Can intestacy rules be challenged?

Can cousins inherit under an intestacy UK?

Do the Intestate rules work for everyone?

In conclusion

Intestacy rules are essential to know. If you have not updated your will or estate plan recently, there may be a lot of uncertainty in what happens when you die. It is best for everyone involved if the process goes smoothly and all assets are distributed according to your wishes.

You may also like

Editorial Note: This content has been independently collected by the EveryInvestor advisor team and is offered on a non-advised basis. EveryInvestor may earn a commission on sales made from partner links on this page, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions or evaluations. Learn more about our editorial guidelines.
Taylor Holt - 300x300

Written by
Taylor Holt
Estate Planning Expert

Taylor Is Our Resident Estate Planning Expert. He Knows That Everything Revolving Around Wills or Funeral Planning Can Be a Sensitive Subject That People Don’t Like to Discuss. But He Also Knows How Important It Is to Know All There Is to Know About It. Taylor Makes It His Mission to Spread Awareness About Estate Planning, and We Believe Everyinvestor Is the Best Platform to Do That.

Monique - 300x300

Written by
Monique Pittman
Pensions Expert

Monique Is Our Resident Pensions Expert. Many People Postpone Planning Out Their Pension, Thinking That Is Something They’ll Have to Worry Much Later in Life. Monique Knows How Important It Is to Start Planning Your Pension Early, and She Wants You to Know It Too!

Intestacy Rules

Written by
Lisa Schilling
Insurance Expert

Lisa Is Our Resident Insurance Expert. She Knows How Important It Is to Be Ready for Any Scenario, Especially When a Family Member Is Involved. Nobody Likes Being Found Unprepared in a Tough Situation! Lisa Can Find the Best Insurance to Cover Your Every Need, Present and Future.

Doyle Edwards - 300x300

Written by
Doyle Edwards
Mortgages Expert

Doyle Is Our Resident Mortgages Expert. He Comes From a Long Line of Financial Gurus, and It Truly Shows. Despite His Young Age, There Is No Question He Cannot Answer When It Comes to Mortgages, and His Ability to See Outside of the Box to Find the Best Mortgage Deals Is Truly Impressive.

jason stubbs 300x300 1.jpg

Written by
Jason Stubbs
Equity Release Expert

Jason Stubbs Is a Specialist in the Equity Release Sector. He Enjoys Helping Older People Who Are Struggling Financially Get Out From Under Financial Pressure.

rachel w.jpg

Rachel Wait
Personal Finance Journalist

Rachel is an experienced finance journalist and editor with a particular interest in personal finance and consumer affairs. She has vast experience writing about money issues, property, insurance, and consumer affairs, and you’ll find her articles regularly featured in top media and newspaper publications.

Reviewed by
Francis Hui
Senior Risk Manager

Having held various high-level roles across the industry, Francis is truly an expert in aiding UK citizens in their financial decisions and risk analysis. His unique insight and statistical knowledge make him the perfect person to help you take your financial future to the next level.
Mark Patterson

Written by
Mark Patterson
Mortgage Expert

Mark Patterson is a well-known expert in mortgages. He has been working as an expert for over 15 years, and he specializes in the UK mortgage market.
kath icon.png

Katherine Read
Consumer Affairs Writer

She writes on the topics of equity release, home reversion, and mortgages.

Nicola Date

Nicola Date
Writer & Journalist

Nicola is a financial writer for EveryInvestor and is passionate about the opportunities that equity release can open up for homeowners. Her extensive business experience and deep understanding of the industry means that she’s always up-to-date with the latest developments.