Attitudes towards the law of inheritance

This research project collected information about attitudes towards inheritance and how these vary between different family members. Researchers examined how the growth in property ownership and changes in family structures such as cohabitation, subsequent marriages and step-families, affect the attitudes of different respondents.


People still view their most important relationships as centred on a narrow nuclear family model consisting of one’s spouse or partner, children, parents, siblings and grandchildren.

However it does not follow that such a model also assumes a ‘created family’ based on a permanent relationship through an unbroken marriage between heterosexuals. Cohabitation, divorce and re-partnering and same-sex partnerships are very common and widely accepted. The primacy given to a spouse (and high level of support for cohabitants) and the importance placed on recognising one’s children underscored the centrality of the concept of a family rooted in partnership and parenthood.

Changes in the way people construct their family relationships mean that there is now strong public support for law reform that expands the range of beneficiaries to include cohabiting partners (though not necessarily on an equal footing with spouse), and ensures that the interests of children from the deceased’s current and former relationships are always recognised by the intestacy rules.


The findings from this report informed the Law Commission's recommendations on Intestacy and Family Provision Claims on Death, published in December 2011.

Project details



Professor Gillian Douglas, Cardiff Law School

Grant amount and duration


June 2009 - July 2010