Who Has Inheritance Rights to Your Estate?

inheritance rights

Who has the right to the contents of your estate? Anyone who has inheritance rights does, and these are given by the original estate owner or the state they live in. When you’re creating your estate planning documents, including wills and trusts, you can include any person you want. There are people who–if not included–will claim that they should have been to the court. The basis of their argument will likely be that they have inheritance rights and your estate planning documents did not fulfill them, or that they should.

Depending on their relationship with you, they may or may not have the inheritance rights they claim to have. There are people of legal and familial relation to you that your will or estate must provide for or give a reason for disinheritance. These individuals have inheritance rights. Others must prove that you would have or meant to provide for them. These individuals do not have inheritance rights.

If you’re unsure who has inheritance rights to your estate and who doesn’t, please contact the estate planning attorneys at Mazzoni Valvano Szewczyk & Karam.

Who Has Inheritance Rights to Your Estate?

There are only two people who have inheritance rights to your estate, with some exceptions: children and spouses. This may sound like a simple answer, but it is anything but.

The exceptions to this are debt collectors and third-party individuals who share ownership of a property or business you own. Some contracts can allow them to claim what remains of a property or business upon your death. Have an attorney review your business documents as well.


Spouses include current and former partners. Depending on your divorce settlement, you may owe your previous spouse child support or spousal support. These are common things someone may owe a former spouse when they pass away. In this situation, they can make a legal claim for parts of your estate that finish or are equal to your remaining child support or spousal support payments. Making a trust to handle these matters is the best option to keep a former spouse from getting more from your estate than you have to legally give them.

In some situations, a prenup, postnup, or special divorce agreement can include parts of your estate, so bring any divorce agreements you have when you meet with our estate planning attorneys.

After matters from any previous marriage are settled, your current spouse should gain everything from your estate. The only things they wouldn’t receive are non-marital assets passed to your children, anything agreed upon in a prenup or postnup that would be for the children or a charity, or something you did not wholly own before your passing.


There are two factors to consider when speaking of children in a will or trust. The first is who is considered to be your child by law, and then the second is whether they are adults or minors. By law, three groups of children are considered legally yours and have inheritance rights to your estate.

  • Biological children from your marriage. Whether it was a previous marriage or your current one, your biological children have inheritance rights to your estate. If you pass away, unsurvived by a spouse, your estate will be broken up between your children if you do not have any wills or trusts established for them.
  • Legally adopted children. Children you legally adopt–whether they be from a foster system, another family member, or previous stepchildren–are considered the same as biological children by law. They have all the same rights to your estate as biological children.
  • Biological children known and unknown conceived out of wedlock. If you have any children you did not know about or did not tell your spouse or other children about, they would have inheritance rights to your estate. Even in cases where their paternity is proven after probate, they can claim a portion of your estate that went to any other legal children.

Stepchildren or legal wards are not your legal children as long as they go unadopted. They have no inheritance rights to your estate. If they wanted to claim any part of your estate, they would have to prove that you originally intended for it to go to them.

Then comes the matter of adult children or minor children. You are responsible for the welfare and caretaking of minor children even after death. This means if you leave behind a minor orphan, your estate must provide enough to appropriate take of them, or as much as you can. This means if you have adult children and minor children, the state can take away from an adult child’s inheritance if they felt your provisions for a minor child are too small or nonexistent. Even if your minor child would live in the foster system or with another relative, the inheritance that they would receive upon turning 18 is expected to be more than an adult child receives upon your death.

Contact the Estate Planning Attorneys at MVSK Law

Anyone who doesn’t fall into the categories we’ve discussed does not have inheritance rights to your estate. This won’t stop any aunts, uncles, cousins, stepchildren, or someone else from trying to claim you intended for parts of your estate to go to them. If you want to disinherit anyone with inheritance rights, we need to put in the legal work.

To make sure that only the people you intended to inherit your estate, you need the best and most experienced estate planning attorneys in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Contact us today for help.

Contact Scranton NEPA Lawyers
Mazzoni Valvano Szewczyk & Karam

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