Legal Agreement for Inheritance Money for Siblings

By John Stevens J.D.

Siblings are free to allocate inheritance money in virtually any way they agree to. The question is whether that agreement is legally enforceable if a sibling does not live up to the agreement. This type of agreement is governed by contract law. A contract is an agreement that the law will enforce. A contract is formed only if several requirements are satisfied. Siblings thinking about entering into such an agreement should proceed cautiously, particularly if they decide against seeking the advice of an attorney.


The formation of every contract begins with an offer. The person who makes an offer is called the “offeror.” An offer is made if the offeror does something that would lead a reasonable person, called the “offeree,” to believe that the parties will have made a bargain if the offeree agrees to the proposal. In this context, an offer might exist if one sibling tells another sibling that she will agree to divide an inheritance equally if the other sibling promises to give up cigarette-smoking, for example. A reasonable person in the offeree’s position (the smoker) would believe that the siblings have reached a bargain if the offeree agrees to the proposal.


A contract is not created unless the offer is accepted. The means of accepting a proposal depend on the terms of the proposal. An offeror might want only a promise in exchange for the offer. Perhaps the offeror instead wants the offeree to actually do something, or to refrain from doing something. From the previous example, if the offeror said, “I will agree to divide the inheritance money equally if you promise to quit smoking,” the offeree would accept the offer if she promised to quit smoking. If instead the offeror said, “I promise to divide the inheritance money equally if you stop smoking,” the offeree would likely have to actually stop smoking to accept the offer.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan


An agreement is not a contract unless there was consideration given in exchange for the promise. “Consideration” is something of value to the person making the promise. Consideration can be a return promise to do something or not to do something. If the offeror wants a return promise from his sibling that she will quit smoking, that promise would be consideration for the promise to divide the inheritance money equally. If the offeror instead wanted the sibling to actually quit smoking, the consideration for the promise to divide the inheritance money equally would be the actual cessation of smoking.

Promissory Estoppel as an Alternative

An aggrieved party cannot recover in a breach-of-contract lawsuit if there was never a contract. The theory of promissory estoppel may apply in some situations to provide at least some recovery where no contract was formed. Assume that a sibling promises his sister that he will divide inheritance money equally between them, and that the sister relies on that promise and builds an addition to her house in anticipation of the money. Assume further that the promising sibling later does not distribute the money equally as he had promised. There is no contract here because there is no offer. There is no offer because the promising sibling did not ask for anything in exchange (consideration) for the promise. The doctrine of promissory estoppel provides that a person who reasonably relies on a promise and suffers some harm as a result can receive money to compensate her for her loss. In this situation, a court could order the promising sibling to pay an amount equal to the construction costs incurred by his sister. A court could not order the promising sibling to divide the inheritance money equally under this theory, however.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
Do Binding Contracts Have to Be Notarized?


Related articles

What Makes a Will Legal & Binding?

When executed wholly and correctly, a will is a legal document that supersedes any other document, contract or verbal conveyance the testator may have established during her lifetime. This is because a will is a type of one-sided contract, defining the wishes and instructions of the testator as she herself describes them without any outside or undue influence. However, there are multiple facets of a will that establish it as a legal, binding document.

Houses Split Between Siblings in a Will

One of the most common directives in a will reads “my estate shall be divided equally among my children.” While parents have good intentions, their desire for sibling parity often backfires. How do you split a house between two, three or more children? Unfortunately, a parent’s death shifts the family dynamic and sometimes brings out the worst in siblings. Such a situation leaves siblings with four general options.

Tennessee Cohabitation Agreements

Cohabitation -- individuals living together outside marriage -- is a growing trend in America. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly 500,000 couples cohabited in 1970, while that the number rose to 5.5 million in 2000. Although cohabitation was illegal in many states in America in the 20th century, there are only a small number of holdouts at the time of publication. There is no prohibition against cohabitation in Tennessee. A cohabitation agreement doesn't give you the same rights as married people, but it can assist you in many ways whether you stay together or end your relationship.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help.

Related articles

How to Revoke a Prenuptial Agreement

A prenuptial agreement, sometimes referred to as a premarital or antenuptial agreement, is a contract entered into by ...

Unconscionable Divorce Agreement

Most states prefer that spouses negotiate a marital settlement agreement on their own when they divorce, rather than ...

New York State Divorce Laws on Prenuptial Agreements

Few couples enter into marriage expecting the marriage to fail, but prenuptial agreements are designed to protect both ...

Can a Future Inheritance Be Put Into a Divorce Agreement?

It takes two to marry but only one to divorce. If your spouse wants out, you save time and tears by accepting the ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED