Laws of Intestacy: unmarried individuals

Who inherits your estate if you are either single or in a relationship but not married nor in a Civil Partnerhip?

The information on these web pages and downloads apply only to England & Wales.  The laws of intestacy are different in Scotland and Northern Ireland.  The intestate estate will be distributed according to rules dating back to 1925 (in England & Wales).  Who inherits your estate on your death depends on your marital status, whether you have children and the surviving members of your immediate family.

The intestacy rules were changed again on 1st October 2014 by the Inheritance and Trustees Powers Act 2014. However, this legislation only affected the inheritance of married couples or those in a Civil Partnership.

Note, however, that any person who is financially dependent on the deceased, whether they inherit on intestacy or not, could make a claim through the courts under the Inheritance (Provision For Family And Dependents) Act 1975.

Laws of Intestacy Flowchart

Please follow this link to download a flowchart of the Laws of Intestacy.

General Rules

The following General Rules refer to the boxes in “Laws of Intestacy” diagram.

  • If a class of relative existed but has died, then if they had had children, those children will inherit equally what would have been their parent’s share – per stirpes (**).  Cousins (or, if deceased then their descendants) are the remotest relatives that can inherit under the laws of intestacy.
  • Within each class of relative, relatives of the full blood (i.e.  they share the same parent) take preference over half blood (i.e.  only one parent in common.)
  • In-laws have no rights.
  • Legally adopted children have the same rights as their adopted parent’s natural children, but lose all rights to their birth parents’ Estates.
  • Stepchildren and foster children have no automatic rights.
  • Common Law Husbands / Wives are not recognised under intestacy law.  They have to go to Court if they wish to be allocated an inheritance.
  • Same sex partners are not (currently) recognised under intestacy law – unless in a Civil Partnership.  They have to go to court if they wish to be allocated an inheritance.
  • Children may only inherit from their 18th birthday (in England & Wales).
  • How beneficiaries will inherit jointly-owned assets is dependent on how that property (property, land, bank account, etc) is held.

Who inherits?

Regardless of how long a couple have lived together, or if there are children involved, under intestacy law they are currently classed as single. Their partners have no automatic inheritance rights.  They inherit nothing!

  • If you have children or grandchildren then they inherit the lot.
  • Then parents.
  • Then siblings then nephews and nieces.
  • Then aunts and uncles.
  • Then cousins then their children.
  • Then the state/crown.