A Complete Guide to Inheritance Rules in the USA

The rules of inheritance are different from the ones in other countries. Therefore, it makes sense to go through the laws before getting into any tussle. Additionally, it helps if you buy a few assets for yourself in the form of property. The regulations also differ from one state to another.

The legal framework adopts a “community property approach” or a “common law approach.” These determine how estates are divided. Some family members are by default entitled to the share. It can seem a tad bit confusing at first. However, with this guide, you will find it easy to understand the laws of inheritance in the USA.

Read about the various aspects here.

Default Inheritance Rules

If you do not have a will, the state considers you passed “intestate.” In most cases, when a couple does not have children or grandchildren, the property goes to the surviving spouse. In a second scenario, if you have children and grandchildren with your current spouse and no other children from other relationships, the property gain goes to your spouse. Thirdly, if you have children from other relationships, the property gets split between them and your spouse.

If there is no surviving spouse, it either goes to children and grandchildren directly or, if none are there, back to parents. If you have a will, you can change some of these rules. But you have to leave at least 30% of the property to your surviving spouse. Additionally, you can add anyone you feel necessary. There is another facet that you need to understand, and that is, you cannot disinherit minor children.

Community Property Approach

The states that decide on this basis are California, Arizona, Texas, and Washington, to name a few. You must be wondering what this entails. The community property approach usually addresses property issues that a couple is jointly acquired in their lifetime. This can also include income received from any job done, property bought during the marriage from the salary received from employment, and any property where the partners lived and were owned by one of the spouses. A probate lawyer will guide you better regarding the intricacies of the law.

If you get property through inheritance from someone else, you are the person in question here. Moreover, it is not directly involved with your liaison; you can retain particular interest over it. If you acquired any property before marriage, that is also excluded from your spouse’s inheritance. And if you had an agreement that all properties be kept outside the marriage community, you can hold a singular interest.

It is illegal in the states governed by the community property approach to leave the spouse. You have to share a part of the property owned by you during the tenure of marriage. Thus, the remaining part is divided between children, grandchildren, friends, and relatives. It is always a great idea to draw a will beforehand to avoid confusion.

Common-law Approach

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A few states are referred to as “common law” states. Here a spouse is not automatically entitled to a part of the property. Nothing owned during the marriage can be divided after the individual’s death. If the property holder dies without a will, then the state laws will decide who can claim the property—the property’s income will also be assessed. In common law states, the title deed name decides to whom the property belongs. However, some laws can protect the rights of the surviving spouse. The surviving spouse can claim one-third or half of the property.

If the property holder leaves the spouse out of the will, the spouse has every right to contest and inherit the amount, as decided by a court of law.

Divorce and Inheritance

In some states, the property gifted to the other spouse can be revoked after divorce, and in some, no one can change what has been done. Thus, it will be wise for a property holder never to assume things. If you gifted the property legally to your ex-spouse and want them to enjoy the privileges, mention that in your will. If you want it revoked, mention that, too.

Children’s Rights

In the USA, children may not be included in inheritance. However, if the court of law always sees that all the children are included, but one born later is not, then the same can be included in the inheritance. On the other hand, for intentional wills, nothing can be done. In this context, grandchildren can also be left out of will or estate.

These are the laws about inheritance in the USA. It also shows the darker side of not creating a will. With a will, you will have everything listed out. Therefore, it will be a hassle-free process for your spouse, children, and others involved after your death.


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