Inheritance Succession Laws

Where You Need a Lawyer:

(This may not be the same place you live)

At No Cost! 

 What Is Inheritance Succession? What Is Intestacy?

Inheritance succession refers to the order in which a person’s relatives receive their property upon their death, if the decedent fails to leave a will detailing how they wish for their property to be distributed. Inheritance succession does not generally pose an issue in cases involving a will. Those who do create wills generally leave their property to the people you would expect to inherit, such as spouses, children, and other close relatives.

Wills can be legally contested if specific family members are cut out of the will. Additionally, spouses may petition to inherit a share of the decedent’s estate if they have been cut out of the will. This is especially true for states which have determined that you cannot legally exclude your spouse from your will. However, wills are generally observed as written when they exist. Because of this, inheritance succession is more likely to become an issue when no will exists and a probate court must decide who inherits.

In legal terms, dying without leaving a valid will is referred to as intestacy. Each state has its own laws regarding intestacy intended to distinguish the differences between total intestacy, and partial intestacy. Total intestacy refers to dying with no valid will at all, while partial intestacy involves a will that does not correctly dispose of all of the property belonging to the decedent.

According to general intestacy laws, the decedent’s spouse will most commonly have first rights to property distribution and inheritance. After that, most states follow the lines of the decedent’s descendants, and their children. If there are no living family members, the decedent’s property will likely escheat to the state. This means that the property will generally go to the state in which they died. This will be further discussed later on.

What Is The Order Of Inheritance Succession?

To reiterate, inheritance succession varies from state to state. Each state maintains its own laws governing the distribution of property left behind by those who died without leaving a valid will. Most states have similar laws, although some will vary more than others.

Most states adhere to the Uniform Probate Code, or “UPC.” The UPC is a set of model laws which have been drafted and reviewed by a group of national experts. These laws are intended to specifically address issues associated with wills, trusts, and estates. The intention of the UPC is streamlining the probate process, which makes estate and probate administration more simple and less expensive across the board. Several states have adopted the UPC in an attempt to standardize estate administration across state lines.

According to the UPC, close relatives always come first in the order of inheritance. Generally speaking, the surviving spouse is first in line to inherit, with children and grandchildren next in line. If the surviving spouse has any minor children, they may inherit the whole estate. Adult children may receive a share of inheritance.

From there, the order of succession is generally as follows:

  • Grandchildren;
  • The decedent’s parents;
  • The decedent’s siblings;
  • The decedent’s nieces and nephews;
  • The decedent’s grandparents; and
  • The decedent’s aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Adopted children are treated 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.

How Much Will Each Relative Receive Through Inheritance Succession?

How much each relative will receive through inheritance succession depends on the state in which probate is conducted. Although the order of succession is somewhat uniform throughout the states, the laws regarding how the estate is apportioned in terms of percentages can vary widely.

As previously mentioned, if there is a surviving spouse and children, they are most likely to inherit the entirety of the estate. Otherwise, the property will go to other relatives. According to the UPC, estates are generally apportioned as follows:

  • Surviving Spouse: The spouse receives the entirety of the estate, or the majority of it. However, this portion will be reduced if there are surviving children;
  • Surviving Children: The children of the decedent may receive the whole of the estate if there is no surviving spouse;
  • Surviving Parents: If no surviving spouse or children exist, the parents of the decedent may take the entirety of the estate; and/or
  • Other Relatives: The decedent’s siblings will take the estate if no other parties exist. After this, the line of succession is followed until there are relatives who can inherit.

If succession laws are violated, whether intentionally or accidentally, the offender could face criminal charges. Some examples of punishments for such charges include fines, and/or time spent in jail.

A few examples of the most common ways in which succession laws may be violated include, but may not be limited to:

  • Attempting to claim property in a manner that deviates from that state’s succession laws;
  • Claiming property that rightfully and lawfully belongs to someone else, such as another relative;
  • Claiming more assets or funds than what they are entitled to; or
  • Failing to return property that was incorrectly distributed.

What Else Should I Know About Intestacy And Inheritance Succession Laws?

As previously mentioned, the term “escheat” refers to when a person’s property reverts back to the government after a specific event. Generally speaking, escheat or escheatment laws allow the government to claim title to a certain piece of property where there are no other rightful beneficiaries to inherit said property.

Escheated property generally passes to the state governments, although state laws may vary in terms of the exact details of this process. State governments may provide that escheated property will be distributed to some designated political subdivision of the state. Alternatively, the estate can be disposed of in some other manner.

An example of this would be how escheat laws provide a significant source of revenue for more rural states. Such laws allow property that would otherwise be unused to be put into active use, which often generates additional revenue for local counties or jurisdictions. .

According to escheat laws, the state is entitled to take the property of those who die intestate. The existence of heirs does not necessarily prevent the government from taking property by escheat. If such heirs are considered to be legally incompetent to take property by inheritance, the circumstances may be treated as if there were no heirs. In such cases, the property will likely escheat back to the state.

There are various timetables and deadlines associated with property escheatment. An example of this would be how in the state of California, any property that becomes abandoned is classified as “unclaimed property”. If the property remains unclaimed after three years, it will escheat or transfer to the California government. The state will most likely provide notice of escheat actions, which are published in county newspapers. This action provides a chance for interested parties to respond formally in terms of ownership with the states’ lost property departments.

Do I Need An Attorney For Issues With Inheritance Succession Laws?

If you are involved in the inheritance succession process, or have questions regarding your state’s specific inheritance succession laws, you should consult with an experienced and local inheritance lawyer.

Because so much of estate law and inheritance succession varies from state to state, it is recommended that you consult with an area attorney in order to receive the most relevant legal advice. An experienced and local estate attorney can help you understand what your legal options are, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.

Save Time and Money - Speak With a Lawyer Right Away

  • Buy one 30-minute consultation call or subscribe for unlimited calls
  • Subscription includes access to unlimited consultation calls at a reduced price
  • Receive quick expert feedback or review your DIY legal documents
  • Have peace of mind without a long wait or industry standard retainer
  • Get the right guidance - Schedule a call with a lawyer today!

16 people have successfully posted their cases

Find a Lawyer