Revoking Rights as an Heir

By Erika Johansen

An heir is someone whose relationship to the deceased gives him a legal right to the deceased's property upon her death. While the law establishes certain rights for heirs, those rights can be undermined or even revoked by the deceased's will, a court determination or the heir himself.

Legal Heirs

When a person dies without specifying what she wants done with her property, intestate laws comes into play, giving the descendants of the deceased -- the heirs -- a legal right to his property. Each state has its own laws defining both how to determine heirship and the order in which multiple valid heirs stand to inherit the estate. Most states establish special rights to a share of the estate, known as an "elective" or "forced" share, for spouses and children of the deceased. Generally, other heirs will be unable to take property until these elective shares are fulfilled.


A clear statement in a will may revoke the heirship rights of a descendant. Traditionally, American law did not allow such an express disinheritance unless the will disposed of all the property. However, many states now recognize the ability of individuals to explicitly disinherit particular descendants in a will. It is usually not possible to disinherit individuals who are able to claim an elective share of the estate.

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Disclaimer of Inheritance

An heir always has the right to refuse his inheritance; thus, legally revoke all of his rights to the property. This process is known as "disclaimer of inheritance," and generally requires the heir to execute a written, signed document that clearly describes his intent to relinquish his inheritance. Heirs may disclaim their inheritance for any number of reasons, including not wanting to pay taxes on the property or not wanting the property itself. The law in most states treats the disclaiming heir as if he died before the deceased, but others will consider the disclaiming heir's status for tax purposes. Either way, after disclaimer, the property will then pass to the next heir in the line of succession.

Court Revocation

Certain actions by an heir allow a court to legally revoke his rights to inherit, based on the idea that he's an "unworthy heir." All states have laws that prevent an individual who intentionally killed the deceased from inheriting the deceased's property. Various states also deem heirs unworthy if they have abandoned their deceased spouses or failed to support their deceased children. Another group of states finds an heir unworthy if he's committed physical, financial or fiduciary abuse of an elder or dependent adult.

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The Rights of Illegitimate Children to Inherit the Estate of Their Deceased Father


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Laws on Inheritances

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.

Proving Heirship in California Probate

When a person dies, his heirs may be entitled to a share of his assets. However, potential heirs must first convince the probate court of their relationship with the deceased. Those with specific questions about proving heirship in California should seek legal advice.

Missouri Law on Last Wills

Writing a will means that you decide who acquires your property when you die. If you don’t make a will, you are said to be “intestate” and the state decides who is entitled to your estate. In Missouri, a person of sound mind who is at least 18 years of age, or an emancipated minor, may make a valid will. This person is commonly referred to as the “testator.”

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