Inheritance: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.

Did you know ...

More interesting facts on Inheritance

Include this on your site/blog:


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

William Hogarth's plate 1 from A Rake's Progress, "The Young Heir Takes Possession Of The Miser's Effects" as his inheritance.

Inheritance is the practice of passing on property, titles, debts, and obligations upon the death of an individual. It has long played an important role in human societies. The rules of inheritance differ between societies and have changed over time.



In jurisdictions, an heir is a person who is entitled to receive a share of the decedent's property, via the rules of inheritance in the jurisdiction where the decedent died or owned property at the time of death. Strictly speaking, one becomes an heir only upon the death of the decedent. It is improper to speak of the "heir" of a living person, since the exact identity of the persons entitled to inherit are not determined until the time of death. In a case where an individual has such a position that only her/his own death before that of the decedent would prevent the individual from becoming an heir, the individual is called an heir apparent. There is a further concept of jointly inheriting, pending renunciation by all but one, which is called coparceny.

In modern legal use, the terms inheritance and heir refer only to succession of property from a decedent who has died intestate. It is a common mistake to refer to the recipients of property through a will as heirs when they are properly called beneficiaries, devisees, or legatees.


Detailed studies have been made in the Anthropological and sociological customs of patrilineal succession, is also known as gavelkind, where only male children can inherit. Some cultures also employ matrilineal succession only passing property along the female line. Other practices include primogeniture, under which all property goes to the eldest child, specifically it is often the eldest son, or ultimogeniture, in which everything is left to the youngest child. Some ancient societies and most modern states employ partible inheritance, under which every child inherits (usually equally). Historically, there were also mixed systems:

  • According to Islamic inheritance jurisprudence, sons inherit twice as much as daughters. The complete laws governing inheritance in Islam are complicated and take into account many kinship relations (so wills are usually recommended), but in principle males inherit twice as much as females. There is one interesting exception: The Indonesian Minangkabau people from West part of Sumatra island despite being strong Muslims employ only complete matrilineal succession with property and land passing down from mother to daughter. They find no contradiction between their culture and faith.[citation needed]
  • Among ancient Israelites, the inheritance is patrilineal. It comes from the father, who bequeaths only to his male descendants (daughters don't inherit). The eldest son received twice as much as the other sons. The father gives his name to his children; for example: the sons of Israel are called Israelites, because the land belonged to the father, and every one of the his twelve sons gave his name to his descendants. Example: the sons of Judah are called Yehudi (which is translated into Latin as Judaeus and into English as Jew.)
  • Among Galician people it was typical that all children (both men and women) had a part of the inheritance, but one son (the one who inherited the house) inherited one-third of all the inheritance. This son was called the mellorado (literally, "improved upon"). In some villages the mellorado even received two-thirds of all the inheritance. This two-thirds would be all the family's lands, while other children received their part in money.
  • In eastern Swedish culture, from the 13th century until the 19th century, sons inherited twice as much as daughters. This rule was introduced by the Regent Birger Jarl, and it was regarded as an improvement in its era, since daughters were previously usually left without.

Employing differing forms of succession can affect many areas of society. Gender roles are profoundly affected by inheritance laws and traditions. Primogeniture has the effect of keeping large estates united and thus perpetuating an elite. With partible inheritance large estates are slowly divided among many descendants and great wealth is thus diluted, leaving higher opportunities to individuals to make a success. (If great wealth is not diluted, the positions in society tend to be much more fixed and opportunities to make an individual success are lower.)

Inheritance can be organized in a way that its use is restricted by the desires of someone (usually of the decedent).[1] An inheritance may have been organized as a fideicommissum, which usually cannot be sold or diminished, only its profits are disposable. A fideicommissum's succession can also be ordered in a way that determines it long (or eternally) also with regard to persons born long after the original descendant. Royal succession has typically been more or less a fideicommissum, the realm not (easily) to be sold and the rules of succession not to be (easily) altered by a holder (a monarch).

In more archaic days, the possession of inherited land has been much more like a family trust than a property of an individual. Even in recent years, the sale of the whole of or a significant portion of a farm in many European countries required consent from certain heirs, and/or heirs had the intervening right to obtain the land in question with same sales conditions as in the sales agreement in question.

In the Bible

The inheritance is patrilineal. The father—that is, the owner of the land—bequeaths only to his male descendents, so the Promised Land passes from one Jewish father to his sons. The Promised Land is called "The Land of Israel" because it belongs to Israel, and his sons are called Israelites denoting their connection with the land of their father.

There was one exception. In Numbers 27:1-4, the daughters of Zelophehad (Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah) of the tribe of Manasseh come to Moses and ask for their father's inheritance, as they have no brothers. In Numbers 27:7-11, Jehovah grants that if a man has no sons, then his daughters may inherit, and lays down the order of inheritance: 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 Mannasseh 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.)

Inheritance Inequality

The distribution of inherited wealth is unequal in the United States. The majority receive little while only a small number inherit larger amounts.[2]

Inheritance inequality is not necessarily undesirable. Various economic inequalities are not by virtue inherently unjust and do not imply a need for policy reform. Arguments for eliminating the disparagement of inheritance inequality is the right to property and the merit of individual allocation of capital over government wealth confiscation and redistribution. The American Revolution centered on the preservation of property rights and individual liberty. In terms of inheritance inequality, some economists and sociologists focus on the intergenerational 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.[3] Despite these differences in policies, a similarity can be said to be evident: some hold the opinion that there continues to be racial and economic discrimination and stratification in countries with the greatest disparities. Some sociologists would agree that the policies and socioeconomic conditions in various communities have a direct impact on intergenerational financial relationships and even the opportunities for wealth later in life. This is not only a fact in the United States, but most nations across the globe. According to the principle of testamentary freedom, individuals should be able to dispose of their accumulated property at death as they see fit.

According to the American federal government statistics compiled by Mark Zandi, currently of “Moody’s”, back in 1985, the average inheritance was $39,000. In subsequent years, the overall amount of total annual inheritance was more than doubled, reaching nearly $200 billion. By 2050, there is an estimated $25 trillion average inheritance transmitted across generations.[4] 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.”[5] Perhaps the baby boomer inheritance will not only fuel the growing gap between inheritances causing more inequality, but also may intensify and worsen racial inequality and race relations. The wealth inheritance will continue to worsen the already increasing (income and inheritance) inequality.

Inheritance and Race

Inheritances are transfers of the unconsumed material accumulations of previous generations. Inheritances therefore take on a special meaning with respect to black and white Americans: they directly link the disadvantaged economic position and prospects of today’s blacks to the disadvantaged positions of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.[6]

Depending on one’s race, one inherits an inevitable amount of privilege or disadvantage at the time of their birth. A number of possible explanations for this gap have been suggested, particularly differences in income and various socio-economic characteristics between black and white households.[7] Research reveals that race could be serving as a proxy for other, more fundamental, determinants of differences in inheritance. Among the findings, it was stated that a “father’s education and variables indicating the economic conditions of childhood were the most important in predicting the size of inheritances.”[8] Based on samples of households in 1976 and 1989, researchers found that white households are at least twice as likely to receive an inheritance (than black households). White households are almost three times as likely to expect to receive an inheritance in the future. Hence, controlling for other factors, these researchers found that race is important in explaining whether or not a household has received an inheritance and the size of the inheritance.[9]

Whites average both better health and inheritance than minority groups in the United States. Blacks and Hispanics are disadvantaged with respect to financial and human capital resources, more specifically, lower educational attainment, income, inheritances, and great concentrations in lower-skilled occupations.[10] Additionally, due to employment discrimination and residential segregation, minority households “have historically been denied the opportunity to accumulate wealth” and thus, acquire inheritance.[4]

Inheritance and Social Stratification

Inheritance inequality has a significant effect on stratification. 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. The first form of inheritance is the inheritance of cultural capital (i.e. linguistic styles, higher status social circles, and aesthetic preferences).[11] 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.[11] 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.[12] 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 hierarchy.[13]

Sociological and Economic Effects of Inheritance Inequality

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.[14] 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.[15]

Oftentimes, minorities and individuals from socially disadvantaged backgrounds receive less inheritance and wealth. As a result, minorities are more likely to rent homes or live in poorer neighborhoods, as well as achieve lower educational attainment compared whites in America. Individuals with a substantial amount of wealth and inheritance often intermarry with others of the same social class in order to protect their wealth and ensure the continuous transmission of inheritance across generations; thus perpetuating a cycle of privilege. For this reason, it can even be argued that one’s inheritance places them in a specific social class position that requires a level of participation in certain activities that promote the oppression of lower-class individuals in terms of the social hierarchy and system of stratification.

Nations with the highest income and wealth inequalities often have the highest rates of homicide and disease (such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension). A New York Times article reveals that the U.S. is the world’s wealthiest nation, but “ranks 29th in life expectancy, right behind Jordan and Bosnia.” This is highly attributed to the significant gap of inheritance inequality in the country.[16] For this reason, it is clear that 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 transmitted from each generation. As a result, this inequality becomes part of the overall social structure.[17]


Many states have inheritance taxes or death duties, under which a portion of any estate goes to the government. In the United States, all inheritances are left tax free up until the first million dollars; other nations have different policies.

Inheritance and Education

The relationship between wealth and children's education, schooling, neighborhoods and social class has a direct correlation to inheritance. This has led many people who have received inheritance to a more prosperous and fulfilling educational life.

Children’s education is affected in many ways by inheritance.People believe that education and test scoring is directly linked to the socio-economic situation that the children come from. This means that children who have been born into a family with greater wealth will perform better on standardized tests. There is an absolute correlation between socio-economic status and test scores[18] and this is not a random occurrence, but in fact happens all the time, every time[18] This has been a common belief in the studies done. There is every reason to believe that a child who comes from parents who are well off will receive a better education, however, when people take a closer look on how that child’s parents accumulated their wealth they will find two very different ways. If a family came into money through both parents working, hard work and dedication to work, that child is often successful. However, when a child has both parents working all the time, their day to day education and child raising is an afterthought. The other situation is a child who has been born into old money or inherited wealth. That child’s parents often do not work as many hours since they have money that has been inherited, so that leaves them more time to spend with their children. For people who have inherited a great deal of wealth, one of the parents may not work, so their focus can be on their children and raising them. This provides more opportunities for that child to experience things than a child whose parents work all the time.

Families who have inherited wealth in the United States are much more likely to have their children attend prestigious colleges. It does not start in high school or college however. The middle and lower classes are getting edged out by the wealthier families because of the education they receive since they are born. Wealthy parents are engaging in a new trend, hiring tutors for their preschoolers. Preschool tutoring, which costs $75 to $150 an hour, is especially popular in Manhattan, where entrance to certain private schools is extremely competitive.[19] Many families can not afford such extreme measures, but this is another way wealthy families are taking that most can not afford. When a child is born into money he or she is presented with many opportunities to become successful. Private schools, boarding schools, prep schools and other high income schools are attended because their parents can afford it. More time is spent on teaching the children when they are young and academics are the foundation for these children. When parents are willing to spend $30,000 a year for their children’s education in high school it provides them with opportunities that many other children do not get to experience. Many people who pay that money are making an investment in their child’s education knowing that the structure they receive at one of these schools will not allow for their children to fail, and ensuring them acceptance to colleges. When they are at these preparatory schools, the main goal is to get the wealthy children into college. On the other hand, many public schools also prepare students for college, but the vast backgrounds, talents, and aspirations of students that attend many public schools are not as similar to those at the wealthy schools. These public schools do not always prepare their students for higher education. Public schools are controlled by the state, and they have to adhere to specific demands that are put on them. Graduation rates, dropout rates, test scoring are all different ways the government judges a school on how well it is doing. The main goal at these public schools is not to prepare the students for college; it is to prepare them for many different fields that the students could possibly go into. Many of these activities are for students that will not attend colleges. At many private schools and boarding schools, it has been found that nearly 100% of the students go on to college. The parents who can afford to send their children to this type of school expect nothing less and are basically promised that their child will go to college. As far as wealthy children going to college is one thing, going to some of the best colleges in the country is another. The wealthy parents are the reason that this is happening and experts say the change in the student population is a result of steep tuition increases.[18] The phenomenal efforts many wealthy parents put into preparing their children to apply to the best schools is much higher than those who are not.[18] This has been the college situation since colleges were founded, but many schools have tried taking action to help less fortunate students, who are academically suited to attend these colleges. Diversity and financial aid are two ways that colleges have tried to help these children attend college. However, the facts prove that wealthy children are occupying the biggest percentage of college students. The amount of students enrolled in top colleges whose parents are making the national median of $53,000 is becoming fewer and the number of students whose parents make $200,000 or more are getting accepted to these schools.[18] The students who come from inherited wealth are benefiting from both their previous education as well as their and their parents inheritance. This is becoming an issue of problems for future social mobility because universities are worried that their universities are reproducing social advantage instead of serving as an engine of mobility.[18] When the students at these top universities and colleges, public and private, are the wealthiest people in America, it gives them the fast track to success while the families who are not in the top tier of wealth are stuck going to worse colleges.

Ivy League schools as well as other top private universities are taking all the steps to be the best, admit the best and wealthiest, hire the best teachers and have the best amenities a school could offer. The money these schools are able to obtain is due to tuition and monetary gifts. Many families who have inherited wealth in America want to send their children to the wealthiest and best schools and that is exactly what they are doing. The gilding of the Ivies offers a striking manifestation of the contemporary American tendency of the rich to get much richer.[18] This is a problem because it is leading to the deterioration of public institutions in the United States and thus making a gap between the wealthy and everyone else even larger. Teachers as well as researchers are also choosing the Ivy League rather than public education institutions. For better or worse, the infusion of riches at the Ivy Plus schools has dramatically extended their lead over everyone else, especially the public colleges and universities that collectively serve the vast majority of American students. This dominance—and the inequities that it fosters—are likely only to grow.[18]

Families who have inherited money do not only just go to these schools for the education. Wealthy families who have children attending prestigious colleges also have the ability to make connections with other wealthy, successful and powerful people. Going to school with the grandchild or child of CEO of a Fortune 500 company provides contacts that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. An example of another way wealthy children make connections is through Greek life while at school. United States Presidents, Judges, and other political positions as well as CEO’s and other successful people were involved with Greek life while at college. Many wealthy people encourage their child to join a fraternity or a sorority because of the connections they will make with other wealthy students, and when looking for a job these connections will help them. The numbers certainly seem to back this theory up. A mere 8.5% of full-time university undergraduates are members of either a fraternity or a sorority. Not only have fraternities been the breeding ground of those 120 Forbes 500s chief executive officers, they also have spawned 48% of all U.S. presidents, 42% of U.S. senators, 30% of U.S. congressmen, and 40% of U.S. Supreme Court justices, according to data from The North-American Interfraternity Conference.[18] This is not a luxury people who can not afford private or boarding high schools and prestigious colleges get to have. Former CEO of Wachovia Ken Thompson was a Beta Theta Pi at the University of North Carolina says, The opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds and places, and the connections have continued beyond my university years to my business life.[18] Students that do not come from wealth can not afford Greek expenses on top of tuition and that is why you see these drastically differing numbers.

The children who are born into money and are given inheritance are not only born with a leg up on others financially, they are born into more opportunity and are guaranteed a higher social class. There is little social mobility for these people because they will inherit wealth and pass that on to their children. Children born into wealth and inheritance grow up in wealthy neighborhoods. The people and children they are surrounded with while growing up are also from wealthy backgrounds. If the family in a wealthy neighborhood decides to send their child to a public school, they will be attending the same school as their wealthy neighbors.

See also


  1. ^ A decedent is a person who has died. The term decedent should not be confused with the term descendant.
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ Angel, Jacqueline L. Inheritance in Contemporary America: The Social Dimensions of Giving across Generations. p. 35
  4. ^ a b Marable, Manning. “Letter From America: Inheritance, Wealth and Race.”
  5. ^ Shapiro, Thomas M. The Hidden Cost of Being African American: How Wealth Perpetuates Inequality. Oxford University Press. 2004. p. 5
  6. ^ Avery,Robert; Rendall,Michael S. “Lifetime Inheritances of Three Generations of Whites and Blacks”, The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 107, No. 5 pp. 1300
  7. ^ Menchik, Paul L., Jianakoplos, Nancy A. “Black-White Wealth Inequality: Is Inheritance the Reason?” Economic Inquiry. Volume XXXV, April 1997, p. 428
  8. ^ Menchik, Paul L., Jianakoplos, Nancy A. “Black-White Wealth Inequality: Is Inheritance the Reason?” Economic Inquiry. Volume XXXV, April 1997, p. 432
  9. ^ Menchik, Paul L., Jianakoplos, Nancy A. Black-White Wealth Inequality: Is Inheritance the Reason? Economic Inquiry. Volume XXXV, April 1997, p. 441
  10. ^ Flippen, Chenoa A. “Racial and Ethnic Inequality in Homeownership and Housing Equity.” The Sociological Quarterly, Volume 42, No. 2 p. 129
  11. ^ a b (Edited By) Miller, Robert K., McNamee, Stephen J. Inheritance and Wealth in America. p. 2
  12. ^ (Edited By) Miller, Robert K., McNamee, Stephen J. Inheritance and Wealth in America. p. 4
  13. ^ Clignet, Remi. Death, Deeds, and Descendants: Inheritance in Modern America. p. 3
  14. ^ Bowles, Samuel; Gintis, Herbert, “The Inheritance of Inequality.” Journal of Economic Perspectives Vol. 16, No. 3, 2002, p. 4
  15. ^ Flippen, Chenoa A. “Racial and Ethnic Inequality in Homeownership and Housing Equity.” The Sociological Quarterly, Volume 42, No. 2 p. 134
  16. ^ Dubner, Stephen. “How Big of a Deal Is Income Inequality? A Guest Post”. The New York Times. August 27, 2008.
  17. ^ Rokicka, Ewa. “Local policy targeted at reducing inheritance of inequalities in European countries.” May 2006. (Polish)
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Bird, Samuel, “Wealth, Education.” USA Today, 2007
  19. ^ Marek, Fuchs, “Preschool Tutoring Gaining Popularity in Wealthy Communities.” New York Times, 2002

External resources

Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

by Clark Ashton Smith

Of all the sovereignty thine eyes obtain,
Thy grant of vision from the royal sun,
And all thine appanage of lordly dream,
The dust, wherewith the worm is parcener,
Waits with perennial claim, nor will resign
Its right in thee. All glories and all gleams,
The seven splendors that inform the light,
And beauties immemorial as the moon,
Robing the barren world—all which thine eyes
Hold for inheritance, at length shall fill
The blindness and oblivion of the grave,
And leave it dark.

With dustiness and night
Upon thy mouth of stary proud desire,
With slumber for thy dreams, thou wilt repose,
Nor startle when the lazy, loitering worm
Is slow to leave the tavern of thy brain.

PD-icon.svg This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain). Flag of the United States.svg

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Database error article)

From LoveToKnow 1911

(There is currently no text in this page)

Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki


—Biblical Data:

Among the early Hebrews, as well as among many other nations of antiquity, custom decided that the next of kin should enter upon the possession of the estate of a deceased person. The first-born son usually assumed the headship of the family, and succeeded to the control of the family property (see Primogeniture). When there were no sons, the dying man would appoint a trusted friend as his heir, sometimes to the exclusion of a near relative. Thus, Abraham, when he despaired of having children himself, was about to appoint his slave Eliezer as his heir, although his nephew Lot was living (Gen. xv. 3). Even when there were children, it was within the right of the father to prefer one child to another in the disposition of his property. Sarah, not wishing Ishmael to share in the inheritance with her son Isaac, prevailed upon Abraham to drive Hagar and her son out of her house (Gen. xxi. 10); and Abraham later sent away his children by concubines, with presents, so that they should not interfere in the inheritance of Isaac (Gen. xxv. 6). Jacob, however, as it appears, made no distinction between the sons of his wives and those of his concubines (Gen. xlix.), and included his grandsons Ephraim and Manassch among his heirs (Gen. xlviii. 5, 6). There could have been no question in those days of a widow inheriting from her husband, since she was regarded as part of the property which went over to the heirs, as is shown by the stories of Ruth, Absalom (II Sam. xvi. 21, 22), Adonijah, and Abishag (I Kings ii. 22; see Levirate Marriage). Nor could there have been a question about daughters inheriting from their father, since daughters were given in marriage either by their father, or by their brothers or other relatives after the father's death, thus becoming the property of the family into which they married (see Daughter in Jewish Law). An exceptional case is mentioned: Job gave his daughters a share in his estate equal to that of their brothers (Job xlii. 15).

Case of Zelophehad.

As a result of the question raised by the daughters of Zelophehad, the following general rules of inheritance were laid down by Moses: "If a man die, and have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter. And if he have no daughter, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his brethren. And if he have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his father's brethren. And if his father have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his kinsman that is next to him of his family, and he shall possess it" (Num. xxvii. 8-11). Brief though this law is, it allows sufficient latitude for legitimate interpretation by the phrase, "unto his kinsman that is next to him." According to this provision, there are four degrees of hereditary succession—that of the son, the daughter, the brother, and the father's brother. In the case of the daughter, it is stated that when she becomes the heir of her father's estate, she shall marry in her own clan (Num. xxxvi. 6, 7). This restriction was later repealed by the Rabbis (Ta'an. 30b; B. B. 120a). On the right of the first-born to a double share in the inheritance (Deut. xxi. 17) see Primogeniture.

—In Rabbinic Law:

In accordance with the principles that he who comes first in the order of hereditary succession transmits that right to his descendants, and that the father comes before all his descendants in hereditary succession (B. B. 115a), the Rabbis elaborated the incomplete provisions of the Bible and established the following order of legal heirs: (1) sons and their descendants; (2) daughters and their descendants; (3) the father; (4) brothers and their descendants; (5) sisters and their descendants; (6) the father's father; (7) the father's brothers and their descendants; (8) the father's sisters and their descendants; (9) the father's father's father; and so on (Maimonides, "Yad," Naḥalot, i. 1-3; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 276, 1). To this list, which they regarded as implied in the Biblicalpassages, the Rabbis added another legal heir, the husband, whose right to the inheritance of his wife's possessions was deduced from the term (image) (= "kinsman"; B. B. 111b).


Each of the sons of the deceased receives an equal share of the estate of his father or of his mother, except the first-born of the father, who receives a double share (see Primogeniture). A son born after the death of his father (Yeb. 67a), or one born of illegitimate connections ("mamzer"; ib. 22b), is also a legal heir to his father's estate, but the son born of a slave or of a non-Jewess is excluded (ib.; Naḥalot, i. 7, comp. iv. 6; Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 276, 6; comp. ib. 279, 6, and "Be'er ha-Golah," ad loc.). An apostate Jew does not lose his right of inheritance, although the court , if it sees fit, may deprive him of his share (Ḳid. 18a; Naḥalot, vi. 12; Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 283, 2). Where the laws of a non-Jewish state deprive a proselyte of the right of inheritance, the Jewish court may do likewise with an apostate (comp. responsa "Geone Mizraḥ u-Ma'arab" [ed. Müller, Berlin, 1888], § 11, and Weiss, "Dor," iv. 117, 129, and notes). In the case of the death of a son during his father's life, his children inherit his portion of the estate. If one of the sons dies before his mother, and leaves no children, his brothers of the same father but not of the same mother do not inherit the estate of his mother by reason of his right to it. But if he lives even for one hour after his mother's death, he becomes her heir, and on his death his brothers, as his heirs, inherit his portion of his mother's estate (B. B. 114b; Naḥalot, i. 13; Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 276, 5).

Where there are neither sons nor sons' children the daughters and their descendants become the rightful heirs. The Sadducees held that the daughter shared in the inheritance when there was only a daughter of a son living, but Johanan b. Zakkai and the other Pharisees decided that the son and all his descendants, whether male or female, should precede the daughter in the right of inheritance (B. B. 115b; comp. Tosef., Yad. ii. 9; Meg. Ta'an. 5). Among the Karaites the daughters always receive an equal share with their brothers in their father's estate (Fürst, "Gesch. des Karäert." part i., § 9, and note; comp. Shab. 116b). The Rabbis, while denying the daughters a share in the inheritance where there are sons, still make ample provision for their maintenance and support as long as they remain unmarried (see Daughter; Ketubah).

When there are no heirs in the descending line, the property is transmitted to the nearest relative in the ascending line. Although the father is not mentioned in the Bible among the legal heirs, the Rabbis did not hesitate to make him precede the brothers of the deceased, mentioned as the next heirs in the absence of either sons or daughters. Philo ("De Vita Moysis," iii. 32) gave as a reason for this omission that it would be an evil omen for father and mother to receive any gain from the inconsolable affliction of the loss of children dying prematurely, but he indirectly intimated their right to be invited to such an inheritance when he conceded it to the uncles (comp. B. B. 108b; Naḥmanides' commentary to Num. xxvii. 8). The mother of the deceased and his brothers of the same mother are excluded from the line of hereditary succession, on the principle that the family is based on relationship to the father and not that to the mother (B. B. 108b).

Husband and Wife.

The husband inherits from his wife, but the wife does not inherit from her husband. Provision is, however, made for her support as long as she remains unmarried (see Husband and Wife; Ketubah). The husband's right of inheritance extends only to property that actually belonged to his wife at the time of her death (see Dowry), but not to property that would have fallen to her had she lived, as, for instance, an expected inheritance from a relative who, however, survived her, or a debt which was not secured by a pledge or by a mortgage (B. B. 125b; Naḥalot, i. 11, and "Maggid Mishneh," ad loc.; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Eben ha-'Ezer, 90, 1). As in the case of her sons who died before her death, the husband who dies before his wife is not regarded as her heir to the extent of transmitting her estate to his relatives (B. B. 114b; see RaShBaM and Tos. ad loc.; Naḥalot, i. 12). A man does not inherit from his betrothed ("arusah"; Yeb. 29b). Later authorities also made provision against his inheriting his wife's property in case she died childless soon after marriage (see Dowry). The husband does not inherit from his wife if his marriage with her was illegal and carried the punishment of excision ("karet"), but if the punishment involved was only stripes, as in the case of a priest marrying a divorced woman, he does not lose his right of inheritance to her estate (Tosef., Yeb. ii. 3). The husband is also the heir of his apostate wife (Eben ha-'Ezer, 90, 3, gloss; Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 283, 2, gloss).

Levirate Connections.

The "yabam" (see Levirate Marriage) who performed his duty by marrying the widow of a brother who died without children became the sole heir to his brother's estate. But he did not receive his brother's share in their father's estate unless the father died before the brother (Yeb. 40a), for his right of inheritance extended only to such property as actually belonged to his brother at the time of his death, and not to property in expectancy (Bek. 52a). If, however, he did not marry his brother's widow, but followed the alternative of performing the ceremony of ḤaliẒah, he was not entitled to his brother's inheritance, but took an equal share with his other brothers. Later, by an institution established in various Jewish communities as an inducement to one of the brothers to free the widow from her uncertain state, the property of the deceased brother was dividedinto two equal parts, one part being given to the widow and the other to the yabam who went through the ceremony of ḥaliẓah. There is much difference of opinion regarding the details connected with this institution, and the court that has to deal with such a case is advised to arbitrate between the contending parties (Eben ha-'Ezer, 165, 5, gloss; Mordecai to Yeb. iv. 23; Responsa of Meïr of Lublin, § 11). Where the widow died before any of her deceased husband's brothers either married her or submitted to the ceremony of ḥaliẓah, the heirs of her deceased husband inherited the amount due to her by her "ketubah"(marriage contract) and one-half of the dowry given (at marriage) to her by her father or his heirs ("nikse ḥon barzel"; see Dowry), while the rest of her property went to her family (Ket. 80a; Naḥalot, iii. 9; Eben ha-'Ezer, 160, 7; comp. Nissim Gerondi, Responsa, §§ 46, 54).

Mere presumption is sufficient to establish the identity of an heir (see ḤazaḲah). If two witnesses testify that a man is known as the son of the deceased, though they can not trace the genealogy of the family, the man so known is regarded as the legal heir (Naḥalot, iv. 7; Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 280, 1). If, however, the deceased said before death that the claimant was not his son, the latter, although the presumption is in his favor, can not claim a portion in the inheritance. The testimony of the deceased is valid only when it relates to a son, but not when it relates to a brother or to another relative (B. B. 134a). On the other hand, the identity of the deceased and positive proof of his death by two legal witnesses must be established before the heirs are permitted to enter upon his estate (B. M. 38b, 39a; Naḥalot, vii. 4-10; Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 285; see Trusta and Trustees).

Testamentary Disposition.

If one said before his death: "This, my son, shall have no portion in my estate," or if he appointed a stranger as his heir in the place of his legal heirs, his declaration is void, for this is against the prescription of the Bible. It is, however, possible for a man to disinherit legal heirs either by preferring one legal heir to another or by bequeathing his entire estate to a stranger in the form of a gift (B. B. 130a, 133b). But such action on the part of a father was regarded with disfavor by the Rabbis (Ḳid. 53a; Naḥalot, vi. 11; Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 282; see Bequest; Will).

The heirs enter upon their possession immediately on the death of the deceased. If all the heirs are of age, the division of the property may be proceeded with at once. If, however, there are minors among the heirs, the court appoints a trustee for the minors before the division takes place. If, after the division, a new heir appears, of whose existence the others were unaware, or if a creditor of the deceased collects a debt from the portion of one of the heirs, a redivision of the whole property has to take place (B. B. 106b; Naḥalot, x. 1; Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 175, 3-4). Before the division all the heirs are regarded as partners in the estate, and if they all live together each one may spend on his person according to his needs, except in the case of an extraordinary expense, as an expense incurred by marriage, which is counted against him at the division. When there are majors and minors among the heirs, and the majors have improved the property by their toil, they all share alike in the improvement. But if the majors said before they entered upon the estate, "This is what our father left us," thus taking an inventory of the estate, in the presence of the court, any improvement that came to it through their efforts belongs to them only (B. B. 143b). At the time of the division of the property, when appraisement is made of the estate, the garments that were provided for the heirs from the paternal estate are also estimated, but not the garments worn by their wives and children, although these also may have been supplied from the common treasury. The holiday garments, even of their wives and children, are included in the appraisement (B. Ḳ. 11a; see Appraisement).

Proof of Title.

Heirs whose title to the inheritance is doubtful are excluded in favor of those who can produce certain testimony to their title (Yeb. 38a). If, however, there are two sets of doubtful heirs and the facts can not be determined, the property is divided (B. B. 159b). For instance, a man and his daughter's son were killed, and it is not known who died first; the direct heirs of the man claim that his grandson died first and therefore did not inherit from his grandfather, but left them the only legal heirs; the heirs of the grandson claim that the grandfather died first and that the grandson inherited from him, leaving them, as the heirs of the grandson, sole legal heirs to the estate of his grandfather: in such a case the property is divided between the claimants. Many similar instances are recorded in the Talmud; in some cases the decision is in favor of the present possessor; in others, as in the case cited, the decision is that the property be divided among the various claimants (Yeb. 37b; B. B. 157-159).

The property of a proselyte who has left no children belongs to the first who takes possession of it (see HefḲer). The property of a criminal who was executed for his crime is not diverted, but belongs to those who would have inherited it in the regular way (Sanh. 48b). If, however, his crime was that of treason, his property may be confiscated (ib.). See also Agnates; Family and Family Life; Paternity.

Bibliography: Bloch. Das Mosaisch-Talmudische Erbrecht, Budapest, 1890; Hamburger, R. B. T. s.v. Erbe; Hastings, Dict. Bible, s.v. Heir; Kent, The Messages of Israel's Lawgivers, pp. 162-164, New York, 1902; Maver, Die Rechte der Israeliten, Athener und Römer, ii., §§ 250-259, Leipsic. 1866; Mendelssohn, Ritualgesetze der Juden, pp. 1-32, Berlin, 1793; Michaelis, Mosaisches Recht, ii., §§ 78, 79, Reutlingen, 1785; Mielziner, The Rabbinical Law of Hereditary Succession, n.d., n.p.; Nowack, Hebräische Archäologie, part i, § 64, Leipsic, 1894; Saalschutz, Das Mosaische Recht, ch. 109, Berlin, 1853; Wolff, Das Jüdische Erbrecht, Berlin, 1888.

This entry includes text from the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906.
Facts about InheritanceRDF feed

Simple English

Inheritance is the practice of passing on property, titles, debts, and obligations when someone dies. Inheritance has been very important in human societies for a long time.

If only sons and other male family members get the inheritance, it is called patrilineal succession. If only daughters and other female family members get the inheritance, it is called matrilineal succession.

The person who gets the property and other things when someone dies is called the heir.

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address