Inheritance succession is the order in which a person’s relatives receive their property upon their death, if the deceased fails to leave a will describing how they wish their property to be distributed. Although most people have strong opinions about how they’d like their property distributed, not everyone leaves a will.
Inheritance succession is not typically an issue in cases where there is a will. Those who do make wills usually leave their property to the people you would expect, such as their spouses, children and other close relatives.
Wills can be contested if certain family members are cut out of them, and spouses may petition to receive a share of the deceased’s estate if they are cut out of the will. In general, though, wills are observed when they exist, and inheritance succession becomes an issue when there is no will, and a probate court must decide who the property goes to.
When a person dies with a will in place, as described above, it will usually be followed in terms of how property is distributed to relatives. However, it is not uncommon for a person to die without having written a will. This may be because their death was sudden, or they simply never got around to writing a will. It is also possible that, though a person attempted to leave a will, the will is not valid.
When one of these things occurs, we say that the deceased person died “intestate.” This is when we must consider inheritance succession, which may also be known as intestacy succession. The deceased will likely still have property which must be distributed. The question of who should receive the property will be determined by intestacy laws.
Such laws are meant to distribute the property in a way that the deceased likely would have chosen, had they recorded their wishes in a valid will.This is no guarantee, though, that the property will be assigned exactly to whom the deceased would have wanted, or in the proportions they would have wanted. Having a valid, written will is definitely preferable.
Inheritance succession varies by state. Each state will have its own laws on the subject of the distribution of property of people who died without wills. While many states might have a lot of similarities in their laws. some will vary more. There is a Uniform Probate Code (UPC), but it has not been adopted in every state, and some states adhere to it more closely than others.
Under the UPC, close relatives always come first in the succession. Although states differ in their intestacy laws, most follow the UPC notion that close relatives inherit before anyone else. It is common that a surviving spouse be first in line to inherit, with children and grandchildren next in line. If the surviving spouse has minor children, they may inherit the whole estate. If there are adult children, they may receive a share. Grandchildren will typically be next in the order, followed by the deceased’s parents, then siblings, then nieces and nephews, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
Adopted children are the same as biological children for inheritance purposes, while stepchildren and foster children are not. Biological children of the deceased who were given up for adoption may not inherit, either.
It is unusual that no living relatives can be found, but if this does happen, the property will go to the state, or “escheat.”
This depends on the state in which probate is conducted. Although it is the order of succession is somewhat uniform throughout the states, the laws regarding how the estate is apportioned, percentage-wise, varies more. As stated above, if there is a surviving spouse and children, they are likely to take the whole estate. If there is not, the property will go to other relatives. Under the UPC, this is how estates are apportioned:
- Surviving Spouse: The spouse receives the entire estate, or the majority of it. If there are surviving children, the spouse may receive less. Some estates allow for the deceased’s parents to share with the spouse;
- Surviving Children: The children of the deceased may receive the whole estate if there is no surviving spouse;
- Surviving Parents: If no surviving spouse or children exist, the parents of the deceased may take the whole estate; and
- Other Relatives: In the event that the deceased has no surviving children, grandchildren, spouse, or parents, their siblings will take the estate. After this, we follow the line of succession down until we find relatives who can inherit, or, if there are none, the property escheats to the state.
The distribution of a person’s estate can be tricky, even when there is a will. When there is no will in place, it can lead to even more disputes over property. A probate lawyer can help with questions and disputes over inheritance succession.