Laws on Inheritances

By Andrine Redsteer

Every state has its own set of unique laws that govern inheritance. These laws, known as "laws of intestate succession," provide guidelines as to the priority of heirs. In other words, these laws explain who is entitled to an inheritance -- and how much they're entitled to receive -- when a relative dies without a will or dies with an invalid will.

Every state has its own set of unique laws that govern inheritance. These laws, known as "laws of intestate succession," provide guidelines as to the priority of heirs. In other words, these laws explain who is entitled to an inheritance -- and how much they're entitled to receive -- when a relative dies without a will or dies with an invalid will.

Wills

In every state, an individual has the right to make a will. Each state has laws that provide will makers -- known as "testators" -- with specific requirements concerning what makes a will valid. For example, "testamentary capacity" is required in all states. This simply means that a will maker recognizes the implications of making a will along with his relationship to the individuals who will be receiving his property upon his death. If a will maker doesn't have the required mental capacity when making a will, his property will be divided according to his state's laws of intestate succession.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More

Spouses and Children

Although laws of intestate succession vary from state to state, it's common for spouses to have priority over other heirs. A typical intestate law will grant a surviving spouse all of her deceased spouse's property if the deceased spouse has no descendents -- such as children or grandchildren. If a deceased person has children, many states grant a portion of the estate to the surviving spouse and a portion to surviving children -- generally, intestate laws mandate that children receive equal shares. It's also common for children to inherit a deceased parent's entire estate if their parent wasn't married at the time of death.

Parents and Other Relatives

Most states give parents priority over other relatives -- unless there are children or a surviving spouse -- when a child dies without a will. For example, it's common for parents to receive a portion of their child's estate if their child left no surviving children of his own. In fact, many state laws give parents the right to inherit a child's entire estate if the deceased had no heirs and no surviving spouse. Oftentimes, children outlive parents and state laws of intestate succession provide guidelines for inheritance in these circumstances. When a child outlives his parents, and dies without a surviving spouse or children of his own, his brothers and sisters will inherit his estate.

Additional Considerations

Generally, will makers may leave property to whomever they choose; however, there are some restrictions. For example, a married person cannot completely disinherit his spouse, unless there is a prenuptial agreement. In many states, a surviving spouse is allowed to take an "elective share" of her spouse's estate if her spouse left her a smaller portion than outlined in state law. In every state except Louisiana, a parent may disinherit his children. However, many states presume that a parent who leaves a child out of a will did so accidentally. As such, a parent who wishes to disinherit a child must state so expressly and unequivocally in his will.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
The Hierarchy of Heirs

References

Related articles

Mississippi Estate Inheritance Laws

If a Mississippi resident fails to make arrangements for the division of his property by making a will, his property will be divided according to state law. These laws are known as "laws of intestate succession," and they provide a distribution scheme that dictates a priority of heirs. In other words, certain relatives are entitled to all, or a portion of, a decedent's estate under certain circumstances -- if he didn't make a valid will. Dying without a valid will is known as dying "intestate."

The Definition of an Heir in California Probate

In California, the term "heir" is defined in the state's probate code. Heirs are people who are entitled to inherit a deceased person's property. California, like other states, has laws that explain who may receive an inheritance when a person dies without a last will and testament. These laws are called "laws of intestate succession," and when a person dies without a will, it is referred to as dying "intestate."

Inheritance Laws & Marital Property in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, a married person can make a will and leave everything to his spouse, if he chooses. However, if a married person dies without a will, known as dying "intestate," Pennsylvania's laws of intestate succession provide protection to the surviving spouse by granting her a portion of the estate. The portion to which a surviving spouse is entitled depends on whether the deceased spouse has surviving children or parents.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

New York's Children Inheritance Laws

In New York, a parent may make a will devising property to children. New York also allows parents to disinherit a child ...

Laws Governing Estate Inheritance for Children in Louisiana

The rights of children to inherit their parents' estates are governed by Louisiana's Civil Code. The state's Civil Code ...

Inheritance Laws in Alaska

In Alaska, as in other states, when a decedent doesn't make a will, his property and assets must be divided according ...

The Rules of Inheritance

The rules of inheritance are set according to state law. Each state has its own statutes that explain which relatives ...

Browse by category