Inheritance Law

What are Inheritance Laws?

Inheritance Laws are those statutes and regulations affecting who is entitled to receive what from the estate of a deceased relative. Some relatives, such as spouses and children, have a right to claim an inheritance and can even do so despite the express terms of a will.


In most circumstances, the law prohibits leaving a spouse completely out of a will. In states that follow a community property system (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington,Wisconsin, and Alaska) each spouse automatically owns half of what they both earned during the marriage unless they have a written agreement to the contrary. As a result, either spouse can do what he or she likes with his or her half-share of the community property and his or her separate property. Everywhere else, while there is no rule that property acquired during marriage is automatically owned by both spouses, most states give a surviving spouse the right to claim either 1/3 to ˝ (depending on the jurisdiction) of the deceased spouse's estate in order to prevent anyone from becoming disinherited. This is true regardless of the terms of the will, and usually in spite of them. These provisions of law apply only if a surviving spouse petitions the court for his or her share per the statute. If he or she does not object to receiving less, the will is honored and the decedent's last wishes will be carried out as instructed.


Most states grant no rights at all to children to inherit from their parents. However, in a few circumstances children may be entitled to claim a share of a deceased parent's property. Most states also have laws to protect against accidental disinheritance. That is, if a will predates the birth of a child and leaves property to the child's siblings but the will was never revised after the child's birth, the law presumes the parent did not intend to omit the newest child, giving that child certain rights to inherit. In some jurisdictions, these laws can apply not only to direct children, but also to any grandchildren of a child who has died. If one wishes to disinherit a child or grandchild, the will should clearly state this intention or else that survivor may have a legal basis for challenging the will.

For more information about Inheritance Laws, you may review the materials found below. Also, given the obviously complex nature of these laws and the ways they interact with other areas of estate planning, it may be wise to consult with an attorney before preparing a will, claiming an inheritance through court proceedings, or opening any other actions in probate. You can find a list of attorneys in your area who focus their practices on estate law by visiting the Law Firms page of our website.


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Inheritance Law - US

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  • Intestacy - Wikipedia

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  • IRS - Inheritance and Estate Taxes

    The Estate Tax is a tax on your right to transfer property at your death. It consists of an accounting of everything you own or have certain interests in at the date of death. The fair market value of these items is used, not necessarily what you paid for them or what their values were when you acquired them. The total of all of these items is your "Gross Estate." The includible property may consist of cash and securities, real estate, insurance, trusts, annuities, business interests and other assets.

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Organizations Related to Inheritance Law

  • American College of Trust and Estate Counsel

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