The Law of Inheritance

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What Is the Law of Inheritance?

Inheritance describes the process and rights a person has to various types of property upon the death of a spouse or relative. Inheritance laws vary from state to state. Usually, the inheritance of property is indicated in the decedent’s will. However, it is possible to inherent property without the existence of a will. Occasionally, a person can claim property regardless of what was written in the person’s will. All of this depends on the inheritance laws in your state.

Do I Need to Be Related to Inherit?

A person who is not related to the decedent may claim an inheritance if it is stated in the person’s will. However, inheritance laws generally do not cover distributions to persons who are not related to the decedent. Instead, as a general matter, when it comes to distributing property the law of inheritance gives priority to close relatives of the decedent.

How Does the Law of Inheritance Affect Surviving Spouses?

The way that the law of inheritance affects a surviving spouse will vary according to whether 1) the decedent left a will, 2) whether the state follows community property rules or common law property rules, and sometimes 3) whether the spouses had divorced.

How Does the Law of Inheritance Affect Other Relatives?

The law usually does not automatically grant children the right to inherit property. In some instances, the surviving child or children may be entitled to a portion of their deceased parent’s estate, especially if a spouse did not survive the deceased parent.

Inheritance laws may also address more distant relatives, such as grandparents and grandchildren, aunts and uncles, and nieces, nephews and cousins. However, absent a gift given through a will, these types of relatives usually cannot inherit from the deceased person. If no spouse or children have survived the deceased person, these relatives may be entitled to a portion of the inheritance.

Can I Contest an Inheritance Claim?

If you have a dispute regarding an inheritance left through a will, it may be possible for you to file a complaint in court. However, courts are usually reluctant to alter inheritances if instructions are clearly stated in the deceased person’s will. If the person did not leave a will, it is likely that the inheritance laws of your state contain a provision addressing your inheritance rights.

Disputes between two persons over the same inheritance property can also be heard in court. In such situations, the court may need to examine evidence that would help to clarify the deceased person’s likely intentions regarding the distributions. The laws controlling these disputes differ from state to state.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Issues Involving Inheritance?

If you have any issues regarding inheritance, you should contact a lawyer for advice. An attorney specializing in wills and estates can help answer questions you may have about the laws of your state. They may also provide various services, such as drafting a will or representing you in court.

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Last Modified: 02-18-2014 01:06 PM PST

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