Intestacy order of priority

Rules of intestacy flowchart

Jul 25, 2023 1:16:40 PM

When someone dies without a Will (or with a Will that is not legally valid), their estate must be dealt with according to the rules of intestacy in the jurisdiction they were domiciled.

The order of priority upon intestacy can be unclear; this blog aims to lay out the rules of intestacy in England and Wales, including an intestacy flowchart to clearly demonstrate how heirs are established and inheritance is distributed.

For more information about intestacy in Scotland, read our blog on understanding Scottish succession rules.

What is the order of priority on intestacy?

When dealing with an intestacy, the beneficiaries must be identified and located according to the order of priority set out in Section 46 of the Administration of Estates Act 1925:

  • If the Deceased was married or in a civil partnership with no children, the spouse or civil partner will inherit everything.

    • If the Deceased was married or in a civil partnership and had a child/children, the spouse or civil partner will inherit all property and possessions, the first £325,000 of the estate, and half of anything remaining. The child/children will inherit the other half of anything remaining (split equally if there are multiple children).

  • If the Deceased was single and had children, everything would be split equally between all children (including illegitimate or adopted children but not step-children).

  • If the Deceased was single with no children, any surviving parent(s) will be next in the order of priority.

  • If the Deceased was single with no children or surviving parents, any full sibling(s) will be next in the order of priority.

    • Half-siblings are only entitled if there are no full siblings. If siblings are pre-deceased, their issues will be inherited.

  • If the Deceased had no spouse, children, surviving parents, or siblings, living grandparents are entitled to inherit.

  • Finally, if the Deceased had no spouse, children, surviving parents, siblings (or their issue), or grandparents, whole-blood aunts and uncles are entitled to inherit.

    • If aunts and uncles are pre-deceased, their issues will be inherited.

  • If there are no surviving family members, the Deceased's estate will pass to the Crown – this is known as Bona Vacantia.

See below a downloadable flowchart that clearly outlines the rules of intestacy:

Intestacy flowchart


It is worth noting that if the spouse or civil partner is due to inherit, they must survive the Deceased by 28 days. If they die within that period, they are deemed as not surviving the Deceased, and the next class of beneficiary will inherit (rather than the inheritance going into the spouse or civil partner’s estate). There is no survivorship period for the next class of beneficiaries.

If any of the identified beneficiaries are under the age of 18, their portion of the estate will be held in Trust until they are 18. If they die before becoming entitled, then their share will be redistributed among the remaining beneficiaries.

How long does it take to sort out intestacy?

Administering an intestate estate can be a long process – in addition to the usual estate administration tasks, a Personal Representative must be appointed, and the beneficiaries need to be identified. Intestacies bring forward additional research and potential delays.

When we are instructed by our professional clients to help them administer an intestate estate, we advise that the work is unpredictable and therefore we cannot offer a specific timeframe for when it will be completed.

Intestacy rules

What is the order of priority for the Administrator on intestacy?

Under the rules of intestacy, the order of priority for applying to be the Administrator of the estate is the same as it is for inheritance. Therefore, the most likely people to be appointed are:

  1. The surviving spouse or civil partner

  2. The children of the Deceased

  3. The parents of the Deceased

  4. The siblings of the Deceased

This is followed by more distant relatives, as per the intestacy flowchart above.

If you become aware of a client death where there is no Will in place, Title Research can conduct the necessary work to locate a relative who is willing and able to act as the estate’s Personal Representative. This provides you with an opportunity to administer the estate on their behalf – 95% of potential Administrators that we locate go on to instruct our clients. Additionally, there is no risk involved, as we will not charge a fee if we are unable to find a suitable Administrator or the individual chooses not to instruct you to deal with the estate. Learn more about our Administrator Search service.

Click here to learn more about what can be outsourced in estate administration.

How many Administrators are required for intestacy?

An Administrator can act alone and acquire a Grant of Letters of Administration as long as no beneficiaries are under the age of 18. However, more than one may apply for the role.
Intestacy rules

Can intestacy be contested?

Whilst the rules of intestacy can’t necessarily be challenged, certain people are entitled to make an application to the Court for redistribution if the estate’s distribution has not made reasonable financial provision for them. This is specified under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

However, not everyone can apply. Those who can make an application are:

  • The spouse or civil partner of the Deceased

  • A former spouse or civil partner of the Deceased (if they have not remarried or entered a new civil partnership)

  • Someone who shared a household with the Deceased for a period of two years

  • A child of the Deceased or any person treated as a child of the Deceased

  • Someone who was being maintained (wholly or partly) by the Deceased at the time of their death

If sufficient research isn’t carried out, it becomes more likely that relatives of the Deceased will come forward with a claim against the estate. To help avoid this, family tree research should be conducted with Missing Beneficiary Indemnity Insurance in mind – insufficiently detailed reports may lead to difficulties obtaining insurance. When instructing a professional genealogist, it’s vital to check that their research is being conducted with insurance in mind and that they are authorised by the FCA to arrange insurance on your behalf – not all genealogists are.

Click here to read our blog on finding missing beneficiaries.

How can we avoid intestacy?

Intestacy puts Personal Representatives at risk of financial and legal liability if they administer the estate incorrectly. The easiest way for your clients to avoid leaving their family with an intestacy to deal with is to ensure they have a valid Will in place.

If the Court of Protection rules that your client or their family member is unable to make their own Will, Title Research can provide support in making a Statutory Will application.

Title Research has many specialist services that can help you administer intestate estates for your clients, mitigating the risk of expensive mistakes and delays. We help to take the stress out of finding missing beneficiaries, doing family tree research, and appointing an Administrator. Our services include:

Learn more about our full suite of Genealogical Research services. Additionally, find out how we can help with Asset Repatriation and deal with foreign shares, bankruptcy searches, and much more.

If you are looking for assistance with intestacy, missing beneficiaries, or other elements of the estate administration process, call our Client Services Team on 0345 87 27 600 or fill in the form below:


Topics: Intestacy, Beneficiaries, Inheritance