Inheritance is a term with many different definitions, but perhaps the most prevalent understanding involves the events that occur following the death of individual. When an individual passes away, he or she typically leaves behind physical or monetary belongings, or assets. A legal inheritance addresses how these assets will be distributed to others upon an individual’s death. Various types of inheritance exist around the world, including partible inheritance, coparceny, inheritances by age or gender, intestate inheritances, monetary inheritances, debt inheritances, and property inheritances.
The most basic types of inheritance are property inheritance, monetary inheritance, the inheritance of goods, or debt inheritance. With the former three types, an inheritance will usually carry some value. Inheritance properties may feature homes, businesses, or lands owned by the deceased. The individual may also pass down owned valuables like jewelry or family heirlooms, or an inheritance may consist primarily of money. The latter of the types of inheritance may be unintended and unwelcome, however, as any debts accumulated by the deceased may become the responsibility of a spouse or other family members.
In many cases, an individual will create a legal document, known as a will, that determines the rules and types of inheritance. This document divides assets among one or more individuals or groups following a passing. Parties named in the will are known as beneficiaries, and may include anyone of the deceased individual’s choosing, including relatives, close friends, or even charitable organizations. An individual may also choose to not divide assets bur rather let beneficiaries jointly and equally inherit in a process called coparceny.
Some cultures view types of inheritance along gender or age lines. An inheritance only accessible to male beneficiaries is known as patrilineal succession, while a female-centric inheritance is known as matrilineal succession. In contrast, some forms of inheritance grant exclusive beneficiary status to either an oldest child or a youngest child. The former type is called primogeniture, and the latter instance is called ultimogeniture. Many regions, however, have a legal statute deemed partible inheritance that requires all children of a deceased individual receive an equal share of any inheritance.
Wills are useful documents for determining inheritance, but many individuals die intestate, or without having drafted a will. In such cases, laws of intestacy determine who will receive the deceased individual’s assets, and these laws vary by region. If an individual perishes with large debts, much of the assets may be used to pay off these debts. Otherwise, in many areas of the world like the United States, intestacy laws dictate that the greatest portion of an inheritance will go to the spouse, then children and grandchildren. Provided no spouse or descendants are found, the next in line for inheritance are parents and siblings.