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.


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.

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.

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

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 Rules of Inheritance


Related articles

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 is unique in many way. For example, Louisiana is the only state that prohibits parents from disinheriting children under 24 years of age. In this sense, a child has a greater right to inherit his parents' property in Louisiana than in other states.

The Hierarchy of Heirs

The hierarchy of heirs is determined by laws that govern inheritance in each state. Some states have adopted the Uniform Probate Code and have based their inheritance laws on its recommendations. The Uniform Probate Code provides rules concerning who is entitled to inherit a deceased relative's property/estate if no last will and testament was executed. Although laws may vary somewhat by state, typically the hierarchy of heirs is intended to divide the estate fairly among surviving family members.

Inheritance Laws in Louisiana

If you die without a will in Louisiana, you have no control over the distribution of the estate you leave behind. It’s called dying “intestate.” When this happens, state laws dictate the distribution of your estate. In Louisiana, however, the inheritance laws are unusually unique.

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 ...

Mississippi Estate Inheritance Laws

If a Mississippi resident fails to make arrangements for the division of his property by making a will, his property ...

North Dakota Inheritance Law

According to North Dakota's Uniform Probate Code, a state resident can explain how he would like his property divided ...

The Rights of Children of a Deceased Person

Generally, a deceased parent has no obligation to leave property to her children. In fact, nearly every state allows a ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED