Who Has Inheritance Rights Under The Law?

Law Blog

When an inheritance lawyer looks at a case, the first question they have to consider is whether the client has any rights. America's inheritance system generally radiates outward from the decedent when it comes to who has the most rights. Some tiers supersede others, and you should understand how an inheritance attorney approaches this problem.

Surviving Spouse

A surviving spouse has as close to guaranteed inheritance rights as exist in the American system. Their rights to assets will conform very close to the state's marriage and divorce laws. If the couple lived in a community property state, the surviving spouse likely has a strong claim to their partner's marital assets. If the couple lived in a common-law state, those rights will depend on whether the property was held jointly by the couple.

Notably, a surviving spouse is always protected from total disinheritance. Just as a divorcing partner would have a right to financial support so does a surviving partner. Bear in mind, the deceased spouse's right to distribute non-marital assets according to their will is still very strong. Once the surviving spouse's financial support is covered, the remaining non-marital assets will move per the will.

Biological Children

Direct descendants represent the next tier. However, the level of rights drops dramatically at this point. If the decedent expressly disinherited their children, an inheritance lawyer may not have a lot of options for turning that around.

You'll note, though, that omission from the will is different than disinheritance. Suppose a child was born after the grantor had written or amended the will. In that case, absent an update disinheriting the child, the descendant can assert a claim against the estate.


The rights of grandchildren only follow from their parents as children of the deceased. A grandchild has inheritance rights, for example, if they effectively inherit them from a parent. Suppose dad died before grandpa did. The grandchildren from that line could claim the inheritance by way of their deceased father.

Business Partners

Generally, business partners have no inheritance rights. One quirky exception comes from joint tenancies. These are business arrangements where rights automatically transfer to the surviving partners. It's a rare arrangement, and it's also used to give a business to a surviving spouse or family member who might have inheritance rights anyhow. The process is simpler in these unusual cases because a joint tenant only has to present a death certificate and proof of the tenancy.

Reach out to an inheritance lawyer to learn more. 


26 July 2021