Succession rights following a separation, divorce or dissolution

What are succession rights?

Succession is when a person dies and their property is inherited by their spouse, civil partner, or children.

Succession rights are set out in law. This means that if your spouse or civil partner dies, you are automatically entitled to a share of their estate. Their estate is all their possessions, including money, belongings, and property.

Succession rights after a separation

When you legally separate from your spouse or civil partner, you can choose to give up your succession rights.

If you and your spouse have a formal separation agreement, you may have already given up your succession rights.

If the court granted you a decree of judicial separation, it may have made an order to say your succession rights have ended.

The court will only renounce (give up) your succession rights if it is satisfied that you will be properly provided for.

What if I am not legally separated?

If you and your spouse were living apart, but you did not have a formal separation agreement or divorce, you are still viewed as spouses by the law. This means you are still entitled to the appropriate share of your deceased spouse’s estate (possessions).

Succession rights after a divorce

If you are divorced, you do not have automatic succession rights to your ex-spouse's estate. This is because succession rights end when the court grants a ‘decree of divorce’.

However, your ex-spouse may leave something to you in their will.

In certain circumstances, you can apply to the court for a share of your former spouse’s estate. Read ‘applying for a share of your former spouse’s estate’ below.

Can I apply for a share of my former spouse’s estate?

As a divorced spouse, or a civil partner whose civil partnership has been dissolved, you can apply to the court for a share of your former spouse’s estate if:

Your application will only be successful if the court finds that you were not properly provided for in the divorce or dissolution. Often during divorce or dissolution proceedings, the court will make an order which bars you from making this type of application.

What if I have a will?

A will is a written document explaining what you would like to happen to your possessions after you die.

Your spouse or civil partner is still legally entitled to a share in your estate, even if your will does not mention them.

More information

The law on succession rights is set out in the Succession Act 1965.

If you are unsure about your succession rights after a separation or divorce, contact your solicitor for advice.

Find more information on what happens to a deceased person’s money and possessions.

You may also want to read about marital status and inheritance and inheritance rights of cohabiting couples.

Page edited: 13 June 2023