Inheriting property from a parent or other family member is idea that has been around since well before the invention of writing. We don’t know who first developed this idea, but we do know that the first legal codes, those of ancient Samaria, contained many inheritance laws that estate planners would easily recognize today. These laws, some of them over 4000 years old, addressed topics such as the rights of a father to disinherit his children, as well as what rights wives had when their husbands died.
In the simplest sense, questions about inheritances are very practical. They address what happens to all the property a person leaves behind after death. It should come as no surprise that different societies have approached this question differently over time.
For example, beginning in 13th century Sweden, Swedish sons stood to inherit twice as much as Swedish daughters. Prior to that, daughters were not entitled to inherit anything at all. This strategy is similar to that often found in Islamic cultures where sons stand to inherit twice as much as daughters.
Other societies have employed strategies that left all of a parent’s property to an eldest child, often an eldest male child, while others have determined that the youngest child should receive everything. In other societies, such as in ancient Israel, only the male descendants could inherit and female descendants were left out.
Today, many modern American inheritance ideas stem from British common law, though the two forms of law have diverged in significant ways since the colonial days.
Byrd : Garrett, PLLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.