What is the inheritance law in the UK? 

The inheritance law in the UK says that if you die without a valid Will, the intestacy rules will decide who benefits from your property and possessions. The rules of intestacy in England and Wales can be complex, and how they are applied depends on a number of factors. 

However, having a Will makes it perfectly clear who will benefit and what they will get from your estate. It is also likely to reduce the potential stress and disputes for your family and beneficiaries. 

Married or in a civil partnership

If there are no children, the rules of intestacy state that all the estate would go to the civil partner or spouse. 

However, if there are children, the first £322,000 would go to the spouse or partner and anything over £322,000 would be divided equally between the spouse or partner and any children. It’s also important to note that the rules of intestacy only recognise natural or adopted children and not step children, although they could make a valid claim through the courts.


The rules of intestacy do not recognise “common law marriage”. This means that if someone has been cohabitating in a long standing relationship, they are not entitled to any of a deceased person’s estate and the whole estate would go to the children of the deceased. If, however, there were no children, the possessions and property of the deceased are likely to go to the long standing partner, siblings or other relatives.

Jointly owned assets

Jointly owned assets do not fall under the rules of intestacy, so would go to the surviving joint owner. This includes money held in joint bank accounts and property owned as “joint tenants”. 

However, if a property was owned as “tenants in common”, where each person normally owns a separate 50% share of the property, it would not pass automatically to the other person, whether married or not. In this case, the deceased’s Will would determine who gets the property, unless there was no Will, where the rules of intestacy would then apply.

Ownerless property (Bona Vacantia)

If there are no surviving relatives who can inherit under the rules of intestacy, the whole estate passes to the Crown which is known as bona vacantia. 

If you are not a surviving relative, but believe you have a good reason to apply to the Crown for a grant from the estate, you would certainly need to take professional legal advice. 

Similarly, within a certain time limit, you could apply to court for financial help from the estate of someone who has died, if you were not married but living with the deceased for a period of at least two years before their death. You may also be able to apply to the courts for financial help if you were always treated by the person who died as a child of the family.

The rules of intestacy can be complex, and applying to the courts can be time consuming, so it is always important to seek professional legal advice if you wish to do so.

How can GloverPriest help?

At GloverPriest, we provide friendly and transparent legal advice. If you would like further advice on a Will or administering an estate, please don’t hesitate to speak to one of our expert lawyers today. Complete our enquiry form.

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At GloverPriest, we understand navigating the law can be a difficult task to take on alone. That’s why we created this comprehensive guide to help promote information for everyone to use.

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