Succession Laws

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What Are Succession Laws?

With regard to an estate, succession laws determine how property will be distributed upon the death of the estate holder. The distribution of property upon the estate holder's death is often known as either inheritance succession or intestate succession.

Normally, property distributions after death are done according to the person’s intentions as stated in their will. However, if the person dies intestate, meaning that they died without a will, then succession laws step in and determine the distributions. Intestate succession laws are especially needed if the estate owner’s intentions cannot otherwise be determined. 

How Do Succession Laws Determine the Property Distributions?

In general, succession laws create a preference hierarchy among potential heirs for the order of priority for distributions. Close relatives, such as a spouse and children, take first priority and will receive distributions from the estate before anyone else. More distant relatives will receive distributions after closer relatives have received their share, if anything is left or if there are no close relatives alive to inherit. 

While this order may vary by state, most succession laws distribute estate shares in the following order: surviving spouse, children, parents of the deceased, siblings, nephews and nieces, grandparents, uncles and aunts, and, finally, cousins.

Are Succession Laws the Same in Every State?

No. Each state normally has its own rules regarding inheritance succession. For example, the intestate succession laws in California are very different from the intestate succession laws in New York

One of the main factors impacting the differences in succession laws between states is whether the state is a community property state or not. This is because the distribution of property varies depending on whether the state follows community property rules as opposed to other marital property laws. 

What Happens If Succession Laws Are Violated?

Succession laws can be violated in a number of ways, such as:

Violations of succession laws can result in criminal charges against the offender. These can be punishable by fines or time in jail. Also, violations of succession laws often involve many other forms of crime, such as fraud or falsifying a tax return. Thus, a person who violates succession laws can be found guilty on more than one count.

Also, it is common for the surviving relatives to file a civil suit against a person who wrongfully tries to claim property from the deceased person’s estate. A civil lawsuit can result in a monetary damages award to compensate the family for losses caused by the violation. Civil lawsuits over succession matters can occur even between members of the same family.        

In order to avoid such disputes, it is always best if a person has a valid will in place well before they become ill or incapacitated. Having a valid will is the best way to avoid having to resort to succession laws to determine property distributions. 

Do I Need a Lawyer to Help Me with Succession Laws?

If you have any questions or issues regarding the succession laws in your area, you may wish to contact an estate lawyer. An estate attorney can assist you with a wide range of tasks, such as creating a will, researching succession laws, or helping with property distributions. Also, if you are involved in a dispute over estate matters, your lawyer can represent your interests in court.

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Last Modified: 01-21-2015 03:47 PM PST

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