Inheritance is the practice of passing on propertytitlesdebtsrights, and obligations upon the death of an individual. The rules of inheritance differ among societies and have changed over time.

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 death.

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 called coparceny.

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 propertybequestees for personal property (except money), or legatees for money.

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).

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”.[15] Inherited wealth may help explain why many Americans who have become rich may have had a “substantial head start”.[16][17] 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.[18] 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.[19] 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”.[20]


  1. ^Julia Twigg and Alain Grand. Contrasting legal conceptions of family obligation and financial reciprocity in the support of older people: France and England Archived 2018-02-01 at the Wayback Machine Ageing & Society, 18(2) March 1998 , pp. 131-146
  2. ^Edmond N. Cahn. Restraints on Disinheritance University of Pennsylvania Law Review and American Law Register, Vol. 85, No. 2 (Dec., 1936), pp. 139-153
  3. ^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 Archived 2018-04-29 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^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
  5. ^Angel, Jacqueline L. Inheritance in Contemporary America: The Social Dimensions of Giving across Generations. p. 35
  6. ^John J. Miller, “Open the FloodGates”, “The Wall Street Journal”, July 7, 2006
  7. ^Piketty, Thomas, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”. Harvard University Press, Mar 10, 2014
  8. ^BILL GATES, “Why Inequality Matters”, “LinkedIn”, 15 October 2014



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