3 minute read

A Guide to Siblings' Rights After Parents' Death

The death of a parent is a difficult event, and can be even more difficult between siblings. Here's what you need to know about sibling inheritance laws.

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

Understanding siblings right after parents death can be confusing, but it’s worth exploring now, so you don’t have to try and navigate challenging circumstances in the future. Estate Plans are an important tool that allows parents to explicitly state who should get what of their estate once they pass. Without a proper plan, parents’ wishes may not be known, and children may not get what they’re entitled to. 

Learn the various rights of siblings after the death of a parent and review different scenarios that may unfold, here. Our guide to siblings’ rights after a parent passes away shares everything you need to know.  

What Are Siblings’ Rights After Parents’ Death?

Siblings’ rights after the parents’ death is complicated and can vary. That said, the question of inheritance is one of the most pressing issues that must be faced, dealt with and settled after the death of a parent. 

If you’re an only child, determining your inheritance rights is relatively simple. However, it can quickly become much more complicated if you have siblings. Inheritance rights can vary greatly depending on individual, specific situations. Understanding as much as possible about sibling inheritance laws is important if you’re dealing with an Estate Plan. 

Who Has Rights When a Parent Dies?

It’s common for parents to leave the bulk of their estate to their child or children. In some states, children are legally entitled to a share of their parent's estate, even if their parent did not include them in their Will. Biological children are usually also entitled to a share of their parent's estate if the parent died without a Will (which is known as dying intestate). However, most states allow parents to completely disown their child or children in their Wills for any reason. 

It’s important to keep in mind that even if a parent disowns their child in their Will, they may still have the right to contest the Will. This is because they’re considered to be an interested party. They can contest the Will in court during the probate process, where a judge determines whether they get a share of their parent's estate. 

Also, note that there are protective ways around a disinherited child contesting a Will. For example, establishing a Trust can keep the estate private and avoids the probate process, which would eliminate a child from contesting.  

When a Parent Dies, Who Gets the House?

In addition to investments and cash, a home is typically one of the most valuable assets a parent leaves when they pass away. Who actually gets the house depends on whether the parent left a Will. If they did, the stipulations of the Will must be followed unless it’s challenged in court. If there is no Will, home ownership will be determined through the probate process.

If there’s a surviving spouse, they’ll most likely inherit the house in full. If there isn’t another living parent, the home's ownership will likely be split between the siblings. Siblings may jointly choose to sell the home and split the money, or one sibling may want to buy out the others. In the event siblings cannot reach an agreement, one of them can file a petition with the court to force a sale of the home.

What Are Inheritance Rights of Siblings?

Unlike how siblings are often legally entitled to a share of their parent's estate, generally speaking, siblings aren’t entitled to a share of a brother or sister's estate. As with inheriting a parent's estate, the most important factor is whether a sibling has a Will.  

If your sibling passes away intestate (without a legally valid Will), it’s possible you might be entitled to a share of their estate. However, you should keep in mind that most of your sibling's estate will likely go to their surviving spouse (if they have one), a domestic partner, or their children. If they don’t have children or a surviving spouse, you may be entitled to some or all of their estate. As with every other situation we’ve discussed, your inheritance will be determined by laws of your deceased family member's state of residence.

Can a Sibling Take Your Inheritance?

If a parent dies with a Will, siblings will receive their inheritance according to that Estate Plan. Your sibling could challenge the Will in court to try and claim a larger share of the inheritance. If your parents die without a proper Estate Plan, you and your siblings will receive equal shares of the estate. However, there are some circumstances in which your sibling could claim a larger share of the estate.

Siblings can petition the court for a larger share of a parent's estate if they spent more time caring for the deceased parent than their brothers or sisters. They can also petition the court for a larger share of the estate if they incurred more expenses on their parent's behalf.

Can a Sibling Sue for Inheritance?

It is possible for a sibling to sue for inheritance. This often happens when a sibling feels that their brother or sister manipulated the deceased parent into changing the Will. In this case, the sibling can file a lawsuit that claims the Will is invalid.

There are several grounds upon which a Will can be invalidated. One of the most common is that the deceased was mentally incapacitated due to dementia, Alzheimer's, or a similar disease. Wills can also be found invalid if they were not properly signed in front of multiple witnesses.

Get Your Estate Plan in Order to Prevent Family Problems

No parent wants to leave a mess for their children to deal with after they pass away. That’s why it’s so important for a proper, thorough, valid Estate Plan to be established. Only through the protection of estate planning can it be guaranteed that assets and property will be handled the way a parent wants after their passing. Siblings’ rights after parents’ death aren’t a given. It takes planning and foresight to ensure things are exactly how they should be. 

Trust & Will can help you establish and update all of your estate planning documentation, so you can rest easy, knowing that everyone in your family is protected. You can create a fully customizable, state-specific Estate Plan from the comfort of your own home in just 20 minutes. Take our free quiz to see where you should get started, or compare our different estate planning options today!

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