Scottish inheritance law has a reputation for being devilishly complicated in cases where someone has died ‘intestate’ (that is, without a will).

But the truth is that, while a little trickier than the guidelines in the rest of the UK, the rules of intestacy in Scotland can be fairly straightforward to put into practice. To help out, we’ve created this primer and a handy flowchart to guide you. Let’s get started.


How does inheritance law in Scotland work?

Dying intestate in Scotland usually means that your closest family members will inherit your estate. Who gets what, and how much of it, depends on the structure of your family. Are you married? Do you have kids? If not, are your parents still around? Brothers, sisters? And so on.

The Scottish intestacy flowchart here can help you figure out roughly what will happen if you die without a will. We recommend also reading our guide below (skip ahead here) to understand the nitty gritty details. When in doubt, you can always call our probate advisors on 0800 054 9896.

Scottish intestacy flowchart

Don't forget!
If you are in a relationship but you aren’t married or in a civil partnership, your partner won’t be able to inherit your estate unless you say so in a will.

Intestacy rules in Scotland explained

Scottish inheritance law essentially deals with the estate in three steps, one after the other. Here’s how it works:


Step 1) Prior rights go to your spouse or civil partner first

Once all your debts have been paid, your surviving spouse or civil partner has the first claim (‘prior rights’) on your estate. Succession law in Scotland gives them:

  • Your interest in your home up to £473,000 (or if the house is worth more, a lump sum of £473,000 and the house is potentially sold)
  • £29,000 worth of the furniture and moveable household items in your home
  • Up to £50,000 in funds, or £89,000 if you don’t have children

If you are separated from your spouse or civil partner, but not officially divorced, they can still claim prior rights in Scotland. However, they won’t be able to take the £473,000 interest in your home unless they’ve been living there with you.


What about the grandkids?
Under Scottish inheritance law, your grandchildren can inherit their parent’s share of your estate if their parent (your child) has died before you.

Step 2) Legal rights are then claimed by your spouse or civil partner and children

In Scottish law, children’s inheritance rights are dealt with after the prior rights of a spouse or civil partner have been settled. Once prior rights have been handed over, ‘legal rights’ are then taken from whatever moveable assets are left over.

Here’s how it works:

  • If you have children AND a spouse/civil partner: Your spouse or civil partner will get one third of what’s left of the moveable estate after prior rights have been sorted. The other two-thirds will be split equally between your children.
  • If you have a spouse/civil partner but NO children: Your spouse or civil partner will get one half of what’s left of the moveable estate. What happens to the other half will depend on step 3 below.
  • If you have children, but NO spouse/civil partner: Your children will get one half of what’s left of the moveable estate, divided equally between them. What happens to the other half will depend on step 3.


Adoption counts
Adopted children have the same rights as biological children, but step-children don’t have any claim at all unless adopted.

Step 3) The remainder of the estate is then handed out based on the order of intestate succession

With prior rights and legal rights satisfied, whatever is left over in your estate (if anything) will be given to whoever has priority according to the rights of succession in Scotland. Here’s who has priority, in order:

1) Children, or their descendants

As above, if one of your children has died already, their children can inherit their share. This combined with the legal rights above means that if you have kids or grandkids when you die, and you aren’t married or in a civil partnership, your kids or grandkids will inherit everything.

2) Parents and brothers and sisters

If you haven’t any children or grandchildren, the remainder of the estate will be split 50/50, with one half going to your parents and the other being split equally between your siblings.

If a brother or sister has died before you, their children (your nieces and/or nephews) can claim their share of your estate instead.

3) Brothers and sisters, if no parents

The remainder will be split equally between your siblings. It’s worth adding here that in current Scottish inheritance law, half-brothers and half-sisters don’t have the same rights as brothers and sisters who share both parents with you.

4) Parents, if no brothers or sisters

The remainder will be split equally between your parents.

5) Spouse or civil partner

This means that if you are married or in a civil partnership when you die, and you don’t have kids, parents, or siblings, your spouse or civil partner will inherit everything.

6) Aunts and uncles

If one of your aunts or uncles dies before you do, their children (your cousins) can inherit their share of the estate.

7) Great-aunts and great-uncles

That is, the brothers and sisters of your grandparents. Again, if they have died before you, their children (your parent’s cousins) can inherit.

8) Other ancestors

As in your great-grandparents, then your great-great-grandparents, and so on. But before it can skip up a generation, siblings are checked for. If your great-grand parents are no longer living, but they have brothers and sisters who are, these people would inherit before a great-great-grandparent.

9) The Crown

If none of the relatives above can be found, the estate goes to the Crown.

Find out more

Get help with Scottish inheritance law

Beyond’s estate administration service can help you get confirmation and handle everything else needed to settle a loved one’s estate, whether there’s a will or not. We’re quick, effective, and always around if you need some advice. Call us on 0800 054 9896 to get a quote today.

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