The Rules of Inheritance

By Andrine Redsteer

The rules of inheritance are set according to state law. Each state has its own statutes that explain which relatives have priority and how much inheritance they are are entitled to receive. These statutes, known as "laws of intestate succession," differ from state to state. However, there is a priority of heirs common in many state statutes.

The rules of inheritance are set according to state law. Each state has its own statutes that explain which relatives have priority and how much inheritance they are are entitled to receive. These statutes, known as "laws of intestate succession," differ from state to state. However, there is a priority of heirs common in many state statutes.

Intestate Vs. Testate

Certain rules apply when an individual dies with a will or without one. A person dies without a valid will is said to have died intestate; a person who dies with a valid will is said to have died testate. Although state laws differ regarding wills, most require a person to be at least 18 years of age and capable of understanding the effect of making a will. Most states allow parents to disinherit their children in a will, if they so choose. However, a married person may not usually disinherit her spouse, unless her spouse agreed to forfeit his right to inheritance via a prenuptial agreement.

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Spouses, Children and Grandchildren

Surviving spouses are typically given priority under intestate succession laws. Generally, if someone dies married and has no surviving children, her surviving spouse inherits her whole estate. It's also a common rule for children to receive all of their deceased parent's estate if their parent was unmarried at the time of her death. Typically if someone leaves both a surviving spouse and children, they share the estate, although the proportions of the inheritances vary among states. Grandchildren have inheritance rights under certain circumstances. For example, it's common for state laws to give grandchildren a portion of their grandparent's estate if their parent is deceased -- in other words, grandchildren may inherit their deceased parent's share.

Parents

Most intestate laws grant a portion of a deceased person's estate to her parents; in some instances, parents may inherit all of their child's estate. For example, it's common for parents to receive all of their child's estate if their child was unmarried and had no children or grandchildren at the time of death. It's also common for surviving parents to receive a portion of their child's estate if their child was married but had no children or grandchildren.

Other Collateral Heirs

Siblings, cousins, nephews and nieces are considered "collateral heirs." (see Collateral heirs are relatives that are neither a spouse nor a direct descendent of a deceased person. Generally, siblings inherit a portion of a deceased sibling's estate only if the decedent had no living children, grandchildren, spouse or parents at the time of death. Furthermore, neices and nephews generally only inherit from aunts or uncles if their parents would have been entitled to a share but are deceased.

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The Hierarchy of Heirs

References

Related articles

North Dakota Inheritance Law

According to North Dakota's Uniform Probate Code, a state resident can explain how he would like his property divided in a last will and testament. However, there are certain guidelines a will maker, known as a testator, must follow to make a valid will. If these guidelines aren't followed, a will may be declared invalid. When this occurs -- or if an individual doesn't make a will at all -- the state laws of intestate succession then govern the division of property.

The Inheritance Hierarchy Without a Will in New York State

A person who dies without leaving a will is said to have died “intestate.” New York courts distribute intestate property according to a statutory scheme of succession and these laws apply only to property located in the state of New York. Laws of other states may apply to real property located outside of New York, even if the decedent had been a legal resident of the state. The intent of New York's intestate succession law is to distribute the estate in the manner in which the decedent likely would have had she left a will; the statutory scheme distributes the decedent's property to the closest surviving relatives first.

Rhode Island Inheritance Laws

If a Rhode Island resident makes a valid will, she gets to choose how her property is divided. Rhode Island law requires residents to be at least 18 years old and capable of understanding the significance of making a will. Moreover, state law requires two witnesses during the signing of a will. If a resident fails to make a will, she dies "intestate." When a Rhode Island resident dies intestate, i.e. without a will, her property is divided among family members according to state law. These laws are referred to as laws of descent and distribution or laws of intestate succession.

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