Inheritance is the practice of passing on property, titles, debts,
rights, and obligations upon the death of an individual. The rules of
inheritance differ between societies and have changed over time.
2.2 Christian laws
2.3 Islamic laws
3.1 Social stratification
3.2 Sociological and economic effects of inheritance inequality
5 See also
7 External links
In law, an heir is a person who is entitled to receive a share of the
deceased's (the person who died) property, subject to the rules of
inheritance in the jurisdiction of which the deceased was a citizen or
where the deceased (decedent) died or owned property at the time of
The inheritance may be either under the terms of a will or by
intestate laws if the deceased had no will. However, the will must
comply with the laws of the jurisdiction at the time it was created or
it will be declared invalid (for example, some states do not recognize
holographic wills as valid, or only in specific circumstances) and the
intestate laws then apply.
A person does not become an heir before the death of the deceased,
since the exact identity of the persons entitled to inherit is
determined only then. Members of ruling noble or royal houses who are
expected to become heirs are called heirs apparent if first in line
and incapable of being displaced from inheriting by another claim;
otherwise, they are heirs presumptive. There is a further concept of
joint inheritance, pending renunciation by all but one, which is
In modern law, the terms inheritance and heir refer exclusively to
succession to property by descent from a deceased dying intestate.
Takers in property succeeded to under a will are termed generally
beneficiaries, and specifically devisees for real property, bequestees
for personal property, or legatees.
Except in some jurisdictions where a person cannot be legally
disinherited (such as the United States state of Louisiana, which
allows disinheritance only under specifically enumerated
circumstances), a person who would be an heir under intestate laws may
be disinherited completely under the terms of a will (an example is
that of the will of comedian Jerry Lewis; his will specifically
disinherited his six children by his first wife, and their
descendants, leaving his entire estate to his second wife).
Further information: Historical inheritance systems
Detailed anthropological and sociological studies have been made about
customs of patrilineal inheritance, where only male children can
inherit. Some cultures also employ matrilineal succession, where
property can only pass along the female line, most commonly going to
the sister's sons of the decedent; but also, in some societies, from
the mother to her daughters. Some ancient societies and most modern
states employ egalitarian inheritance, without discrimination based on
gender and/or birth order.
The inheritance is patrilineal. The father —that is, the owner of
the land— bequeaths only to his male descendants, so the Promised
Land passes from one
Jewish father to his sons.
If there were no living sons and no descendants of any previously
living sons, daughters inherit. In Numbers 27:1-4, the daughters of
Zelophehad (Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah) of the tribe of
Manasseh come to Moses and ask for their father's inheritance, as they
have no brothers. The order of inheritance is set out in Numbers
27:7-11: a man's sons inherit first, daughters if no sons, brothers if
he has no children, and so on.
Later, in Numbers 36, some of the heads of the families of the tribe
of Manasseh come to Moses and point out that, if a daughter inherits
and then marries a man not from her paternal tribe, her land will pass
from her birth-tribe's inheritance into her marriage-tribe's. So a
further rule is laid down: if a daughter inherits land, she must marry
someone within her father's tribe. (The daughters of Zelophehad marry
the sons' of their father's brothers. There is no indication that this
was not their choice.)
The tractate Baba Bathra, written during late Antiquity in Babylon,
deals extensively with issues of property ownership and inheritance
Jewish Law. Other works of Rabbinical Law, such as the
Hilkhot naḥalot : mi-sefer
Mishneh Torah leha-Rambam, and
the Sefer ha-yerushot: ʻim yeter ha-mikhtavim be-divre ha-halakhah
be-ʻAravit uve-ʻIvrit uve-Aramit also deal with inheritance
issues. The first, often abbreviated to Mishneh Torah, was written by
Maimonides and was very important in
All these sources agree that the firstborn son is entitled to a double
portion of his father's estate: Deuteronomy 21:17. This means that,
for example, if a father left five sons, the firstborn receives a
third of the estate and each of the other four receives a sixth. If he
left nine sons, the firstborn receives a fifth and each of the other
eight receive a tenth. If the eldest surviving son is not the
firstborn son, he is not entitled to the double portion.
Philo of Alexandria and Josephus also comment on the
of inheritance, praising them above other law codes of their time.
They also agreed that the firstborn son must receive a double portion
of his father's estate.
New Testament does not specifically mention anything about
inheritance rights: the only story even mentioning inheritance is that
of the Prodigal Son, but that involved the father voluntarily passing
his estate to his two sons prior to his death; the younger son
receiving his inheritance (1/3; the older son would have received 2/3
under then existing
Jewish law) and squandering it.
The topic is generally not discussed among doctrinal statements of
various denominations or sects, leaving that to be a matter of secular
Main article: Islamic inheritance jurisprudence
Quran introduced a number of different rights and restrictions on
matters of inheritance, including general improvements to the
treatment of women and family life compared to the pre-Islamic
societies that existed in the Arabian Peninsula at the time.
Quran introduced additional heirs that were not
entitled to inheritance in pre-Islamic times, mentioning nine
relatives specifically of which six were female and three were male.
However, the inheritance rights of women remained inferior to those of
men. According to the Quran, for example, a son is entitled to twice
as much inheritance as a daughter.[Quran 4:11] The
presented efforts to fix the laws of inheritance, and thus forming a
complete legal system. This development was in contrast to pre-Islamic
societies where rules of inheritance varied considerably. In
addition to the above changes, the
Quran imposed restrictions on
testamentary powers of a
Muslim in disposing his or her property. In
their will, a
Muslim can only give out a maximum of one third of their
Quran contains only three verses that give specific details of
inheritance and shares, in addition to few other verses dealing with
testamentary. [Quran 4:11,12,176] But this information was
used as a starting point by
Muslim jurists who expounded the laws of
inheritance even further using Hadith, as well as methods of juristic
reasoning like Qiyas. Nowadays, inheritance is considered an integral
Sharia law and its application for Muslims is mandatory,
though many peoples (see Historical inheritance systems), despite
being Muslim, have other inheritance customs.
The distribution of the inherited wealth has varied greatly among
different cultures and legal traditions. In nations using civil law,
for example, the right of children to inherit wealth from parents in
pre-defined ratios is enshrined in law, as far back as the Code of
Hammurabi (ca. 1750 BC). In the US State of Louisiana, the only US
state to use
Napoleonic Code for state law, this system is known as
"forced heirship" which prohibits disinheritance of adult children
except for a few narrowly-defined reasons that a parent is obligated
to prove. Other legal traditions, particularly in nations using
common law, allow inheritances to be divided however one wishes, or to
disinherit any child for any reason.
In cases of unequal inheritance, the majority might receive little
while only a small number inherit a larger amount, with the lesser
amount given to the daughter in the family. The
amount of inheritance is often far less than the value of a business
initially given to the son, especially when a son takes over a
thriving multimillion-dollar business, yet the daughter is given the
balance of the actual inheritance amounting to far less than the value
of business that was initially given to the son. This is especially
seen in old world cultures, but continues in many families to this
Arguments for eliminating the disparagement of inheritance inequality
include the right to property and the merit of individual allocation
of capital over government wealth confiscation and redistribution, but
this does not resolve what some[who?] describe as the problem of
unequal inheritance. In terms of inheritance inequality, some
economists and sociologists focus on the inter generational
transmission of income or wealth which is said to have a direct impact
on one's mobility (or immobility) and class position in society.
Nations differ on the political structure and policy options that
govern the transfer of wealth.
According to the American federal government statistics compiled by
Mark Zandi in 1985, the average US inheritance was $39,000. In
subsequent years, the overall amount of total annual inheritance more
than doubled, reaching nearly $200 billion. By 2050, there will be an
estimated $25 trillion average inheritance transmitted across
Some researchers have attributed this rise to the baby boomer
generation. Historically, the baby boomers were the largest influx of
children conceived after WW2. For this reason,
Thomas Shapiro suggests
that this generation "is in the midst of benefiting from the greatest
inheritance of wealth in history." Inherited wealth may help
explain why many Americans who have become rich may have had a
"substantial head start". In September 2012, according to the
Institute for Policy Studies, "over 60 percent" of the Forbes richest
400 Americans "grew up in substantial privilege", and often (but not
always) received substantial inheritances. The French economist
Thomas Piketty studied this phenomenon in his best-selling book
Capital in the Twenty-First Century, published in 2013.
Other research has shown that many inheritances, large or small, are
rapidly squandered. Similarly, analysis shows that over two-thirds
of high-wealth families lose their wealth within two generations, and
almost 80% of high-wealth parents "feel the next generation is not
financially responsible enough to handle inheritance."
It has been argued that inheritance plays a significant effect on
Inheritance is an integral component of family,
economic, and legal institutions, and a basic mechanism of class
stratification. It also affects the distribution of wealth at the
societal level. The total cumulative effect of inheritance on
stratification outcomes takes three forms, according to scholars who
have examined the subject.
The first form of inheritance is the inheritance of cultural capital
(i.e. linguistic styles, higher status social circles, and aesthetic
preferences). The second form of inheritance is through familial
interventions in the form of inter vivos transfers (i.e. gifts between
the living), especially at crucial junctures in the life courses.
Examples include during a child's milestone stages, such as going to
college, getting married, getting a job, and purchasing a home.
The third form of inheritance is the transfers of bulk estates at the
time of death of the testators, thus resulting in significant economic
advantage accruing to children during their adult years. The
origin of the stability of inequalities is material (personal
possessions one is able to obtain) and is also cultural, rooted either
in varying child-rearing practices that are geared to socialization
according to social class and economic position. Child-rearing
practices among those who inherit wealth may center around favoring
some groups at the expense of others at the bottom of the social
Sociological and economic effects of inheritance inequality
It is further argued that the degree to which economic status and
inheritance is transmitted across generations determines one's life
chances in society. Although many have linked one's social origins and
educational attainment to life chances and opportunities, education
cannot serve as the most influential predictor of economic mobility.
In fact, children of well-off parents generally receive better
schooling and benefit from material, cultural, and genetic
inheritances. Likewise, schooling attainment is often persistent
across generations and families with higher amounts of inheritance are
able to acquire and transmit higher amounts of human capital. Lower
amounts of human capital and inheritance can perpetuate inequality in
the housing market and higher education. Research reveals that
inheritance plays an important role in the accumulation of housing
wealth. Those who receive an inheritance are more likely to own a home
than those who do not regardless of the size of the inheritance.
Often, racial or religious minorities and individuals from socially
disadvantaged backgrounds receive less inheritance and
wealth. As a result, mixed races might be excluded in
inheritance privilege and are more likely to rent homes or live in
poorer neighborhoods, as well as achieve lower educational attainment
compared with whites in America. Individuals with a substantial amount
of wealth and inheritance often intermarry with others of the same
social class to protect their wealth and ensure the continuous
transmission of inheritance across generations; thus perpetuating a
cycle of privilege.
Nations with the highest income and wealth inequalities often have the
highest rates of homicide and disease (such as obesity, diabetes, and
New York Times
New York Times article reveals that the U.S. is
the world's wealthiest nation, but "ranks twenty-ninth in life
expectancy, right behind Jordan and Bosnia." This has been regarded as
highly attributed to the significant gap of inheritance inequality in
the country, although there are clearly other factors such as the
affordability of healthcare.
When social and economic inequalities centered on inheritance are
perpetuated by major social institutions such as family, education,
religion, etc., these differing life opportunities are argued to be
transmitted from each generation. As a result, this inequality is
believed to become part of the overall social structure.
Many states have inheritance taxes or death duties, under which a
portion of any estate goes to the government.
Inheritance law in Canada
Order of succession
^ a b "Nachalot - Chapter 2". www.chabad.org. Retrieved 28 September
^ Saʻadia ben Joseph, Joel Müller (28 September 1897). "Sefer
ha-yerushot: ʻim yeter ha-mikhtavim be-divre ha-halakhah be-ʻAravit
uve-ʻIvrit uve-Aramit". Ernest Leroux. Retrieved 28 September 2017
– via Internet Archive.
^ Spec. Leg. 2.130
^ Ant. 4.249
^ a b C.E. Bosworth et al, eds. (1993). "Mīrāth". Encyclopaedia of
Islam. 7 (second ed.). Brill Academic Publishers.
ISBN 90-04-09419-9. CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)
^ "The Quranic Arabic Corpus - Translation". corpus.quran.com.
Retrieved 28 September 2017.
^  Archived 2015-05-01 at the Wayback Machine.
^ Julia Twigg and Alain Grand. Contrasting legal conceptions of family
obligation and financial reciprocity in the support of older people:
France and England Ageing & Society, 18(2) March 1998 , pp.
^ Edmond N. Cahn. Restraints on Disinheritance University of
Pennsylvania Law Review and American Law Register, Vol. 85, No. 2
(Dec., 1936), pp. 139-153
^ 43 Loy. L. Rev. 1 (1997-1998) The New Forced Heirship in Louisiana:
Historical Perspectives, Comparative Law Analyses and Reflections upon
the Integration of New Structures into a Classical Civil Law System
^ Davies, James B. "The Relative Impact of
Inheritance and Other
Factors on Economic Inequality". The Quarterly Journal of Economics,
Vol. 97, No. 3, pp. 471
^ Angel, Jacqueline L.
Inheritance in Contemporary America: The Social
Dimensions of Giving across Generations. p. 35
^ Marable, Manning. "Letter From America: Inheritance, Wealth and
Race." Google pages.com
^ Shapiro, Thomas M. The Hidden Cost of Being African American: How
Wealth Perpetuates Inequality. Oxford University Press. 2004. p. 5
^ Bruenig, Matt (March 24, 2014). "You call this a meritocracy? How
rich inheritance is poisoning the American economy". Salon. Retrieved
August 24, 2014.
^ Staff (March 18, 2014). "Inequality – Inherited wealth". The
Economist. Retrieved August 24, 2014.
^ Pizzigati, Sam (September 24, 2012). "The 'Self-Made' Hallucination
of America's Rich". Institute for Policy Studies. Retrieved August 24,
^ Elizabeth O'Brien. One in three Americans who get an inheritance
blow it, Market Watch.com
^ Chris Taylor. 70% of Rich Families Lose Their Wealth by the Second
Generation, Time.com, June 17, 2015
^ a b (Edited By) Miller, Robert K., McNamee, Stephen J. Inheritance
and Wealth in America. p. 2
^ (Edited By) Miller, Robert K., McNamee, Stephen L.
Wealth in America. p. 4
^ Clignet, Remi. Death, Deeds, and Descendants:
Inheritance in Modern
America. p. 3
^ Bowles, Samuel; Gintis, Herbert, "The
Inheritance of Inequality."
Journal of Economic Perspectives Vol. 16, No. 3, 2002, p. 4
^ Flippen, Chenoa A. "Racial and Ethnic Inequality in Homeownership
and Housing Equity." The Sociological Quarterly, Volume 42, No. 2 p.
^ page 20 of "The Spirit Level"by Wilkinson & Pickett, Bloomsbury
^ Dubner, Stephen. "How Big of a Deal Is Income Inequality? A Guest
Post". The New York Times. August 27, 2008.
^ Rokicka, Ewa. "Local policy targeted at reducing inheritance of
inequalities in European countries." May 2006. Lodz.pl (in Polish)
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