- For other uses, see inheritance (disambiguation).
Inheritance is the practice of passing on property, titles, debts, and obligations upon the death of an individual. It has long played an extremely important role in human societies.
Both anthropology and sociology have made detailed studies in this area. Many cultures feature patrilineal succession, also known as gavelkind, where only male children can inherit. Some cultures also employ matrilineal succession only passing property along the female line. Even more radical than patrelinial succession is the practice of primogeniture whereby all property goes to the eldest child, or often the eldest son. Conversely there are also systems where eveything is left to the youngest child. Some ancient societies and most modern states employ partible inheritance , whereby every child inherits equally. There was also a mixed system, whereby the eldest son received twice as much as the other sons, for example among the ancient Israelites. Many modern states have inheritance taxes, whereby a portion of any estate goes to the government.
Employing differing forms of succession can effect many areas of society. Gender roles are profoundly affected by traditional inheritance laws. Primogeniture has the effect of keeping large estates united and thus perpetuating a single elite. With partible inheritance large estates are slowly divided among many descendants and great wealth is eventually diluted.
In common law jurisdictions an heir is a person who is entitled to receive a share of the decedent's property via the rules of inheritance in the jurisdiction where the decedent died or owned property at the time of his death. Traditionally one only became an heir upon the death of the related person: it was improper to speak of the "heir" of a living person since the exact identity of the persons entitled to inherit would not be determined until the time of death.