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Guide to Sibling Inheritance Laws

Curious about what the laws of inheritance look like, specifically between siblings? Look no further! Estate planning experts explain.

They were your first playmates growing up. You rode bikes, shared secrets, and fought over the remote control. You grew up and maybe stayed close, maybe not. The relationships you have with your siblings can be some of the most formative and important ones in your life. But what does it mean when it comes to inheritance? That can get a little confusing. Let’s untangle some sibling inheritance laws and take a look at when a sibling might be entitled to an inheritance.  

What are sibling inheritance laws? 

When distributing the Estate of a deceased person (a decedent) to heirs, there is an order of inheritance. In the majority of cases, siblings are not high in the order of inheritance. This is where intestate succession and intestacy come into play. If you’ve never heard of these legal terms, you may be asking yourself: what is intestate succession or intestacy? Good question. 

Intestacy is what it’s called when a person dies without a Will, or when some of what they owned was not included in their Will. Their Estate (any and all assets they own) will likely go to probate court and be subject to their state’s intestate laws. Intestate succession is how the Estate of the decedent is distributed to heirs. 

Generally, the order of intestate succession is as follows: surviving spouse or domestic partner and children (biological and adopted) first, then their surviving parents. If they had children who are no longer living but have grandchildren, those grandchildren may be set to inherit. If the deceased person has no spouse or domestic partner, no children, no grandchildren, and their parents are no longer living, then their siblings would be the ones to receive the Estate.  

Sibling inheritance laws usually become relevant when a person dies without having made a Will or created a Trust, or when all of the benefactors named in the Will are themselves deceased.     

How is inheritance split between siblings? 

When siblings are legally determined to be the surviving kin highest in the order of succession, they will inherit the assets in their deceased sibling’s Estate. And they inherit it equally. If there is one surviving sibling, the entire Estate will go to them. If there are four surviving siblings, each sibling will inherit 25% of the Estate. 

Do all siblings have the same rights? 

Sibling inheritance laws apply to full siblings (two shared parents) and half-siblings (one shared parent.) Step-siblings would only fit into sibling intestate succession if they were legally adopted by the parent of the decedent, thus having become their legal sibling. 

Usually, siblings will each be given an equal share of the Estate through probate court. However, there are times when one sibling may feel they are owed a greater portion of the Estate than the others. If one of the surviving siblings provided significantly more care, or they paid for or provided services they feel they should be compensated for by the Estate, they may attempt to petition for it. 

When are siblings awarded an inheritance?

Siblings can be awarded an inheritance in several situations. When their brother or sister dies, if there is a Will or an established Trust, and they are mentioned in it, they Will receive what the Will or Trust stipulates. However, if there isn’t a Will or Trust - or if a sibling had property they didn’t account for in their Will or transfer to anyone through a Trust, then some or all that property will have to go through probate. Probate can become a costly and lengthy legal  process whereby a probate court will determine which siblings may possibly be awarded an inheritance. 

While an Estate is in probate, all of the deceased’s assets and debts will be identified, and the determination of the beneficiaries will be legally recognized. Again, intestate succession follows this progression: spouse, children (and/or grandchildren), parents, siblings (and other descendants of their parents, such as nieces and nephews), and lastly, aunts and uncles. 

For many people, succession stops at the spouse or the children. Though siblings may be close to one another, adult siblings are not seen as close relatives when it comes to inheritance laws. But if the deceased sibling had no spouse or partner, or that spouse or partner has died, AND they had no children or legal stepchildren, or their children or stepchildren have died, AND those children had no children so there are no grandchildren or the grandchildren have also died, AND the decedent’s parents are both deceased as well, then intestacy laws would favor siblings. Siblings will inherit when there are no other, closer relatives of the decedent to inherit the Estate. 

Inheritance laws by state:

There are three categories of inheritance laws that determine how an Estate is divided, and these laws can vary from state to state. These laws are referred to when settling an Estate that’s in intestacy. 

Common law, as it relates to inheritance laws, means that a surviving spouse is not entitled to inherit half of any property obtained during the marriage, but in many states, they will often be able to claim one-third or one-half of their spouse’s Estate. In states that follow common law or equitable distribution, certain assets owned by one spouse will not automatically belong to the other unless their name is also on the title or deed. 

Community property inheritance laws, each spouse is automatically the co-owner of whatever was earned during a marriage. Community property does not apply to anything owned by either spouse before the marriage, inheritance or gifts given to one spouse, or other assets the spouses have legally agreed to keep separate. In states that follow community property laws, at least half of the assets in the Estate that was earned throughout the marriage will be awarded to the spouse. 

Elective community property states allow for the creation of community property trusts, which allow spouses to share assets and have a right to inheritance. 

The inheritance laws, by state, are: 

  • Common law – Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia 

  • Community property – Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin

  • Elective community property – Alaska, Kentucky, Tennessee

Will your siblings inherit your Estate? 

The confusion over sibling inheritance laws is just one reason why estate planning is important. By creating a Will or a Trust, you can determine what will happen to your property. If you want to leave something to a sibling or if you have another heir in mind, nothing makes more sense than putting it in an official, legally-binding document. If you want to keep your Estate out of probate court and keep your family from fighting over your property, making a Will or putting property into a trust can be a proactive way to avoid confusion and family disputes

At Trust & Will, we’re here to help families get the Wills and Trusts they need. Our affordable documents can be created online and made specifically for your state. See where you should start with when you take our free online quiz! Avoid Intestacy and family disputes with help from Trust & Will.