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Does a spouse automatically inherit everything with a will?

20 December 2023 Written by Davidson Shirley Solicitors Category: Wills & Estates

Navigating the complexities of inheritance law is essential for providing clarity and peace of mind. In this guide, we'll shed light on the specificities of spousal inheritance.

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In Scotland, inheritance rules can differ from those in other parts of the UK. While the presence of a will is a crucial factor, it does not necessarily mean that a spouse automatically inherits everything. The concept of "legal rights" in Scots law ensures that spouses and children have a right to a share of the deceased's moveable estate, irrespective of the terms of the will.

Prior Rights

The surviving spouse is entitled to a "prior rights" share, which includes the family home (up to a certain value), furniture, and a cash sum. These rights take precedence over other claims on the estate.

Legal Rights

In addition to prior rights, the surviving spouse is entitled to a share of the deceased's moveable estate. This is known as the "legal rights" share and is calculated after deducting the prior rights and any outstanding debts.

Discretionary Provisions

A well-drafted will can influence how the estate is distributed. However, the surviving spouse's legal rights cannot be completely disinherited, and any attempt to do so may be subject to challenge.

Intestate Succession

In the absence of a will, the rules of intestate succession apply, and the surviving spouse is entitled to a significant share of the estate.


In conclusion, while the presence of a will is a crucial aspect of estate planning, it does not automatically mean a spouse inherits everything in Scotland. Understanding the nuances of legal rights and prior rights is essential for ensuring a fair and legally compliant distribution of the estate. 

Davidson & Shirley Solicitors, Lanark, Hamilton, Carluke & Strathaven, Scotland

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