The death of a parent can be emotionally trying, especially if the passing was unexpected. It can also be a test of your patience if there are complicated estate issues to sort out. If you have siblings, for example, there may be questions about who should inherit what. State law can define siblings’ rights after parents’ death and it’s helpful to understand what that might mean for you and your family. You may also want to work with a financial advisor if you’re planning on inheriting a substantial amount of assets so that you can create a proper financial plan.
What Are Siblings’ Rights After Parents’ Death?
When a parent passes away leaving multiple children behind, each of them is treated as a sibling for estate planning purposes. The extent of their siblings’ rights and what they can inherit is determined largely by three things:
Whether the deceased parent left behind a will or trust
Whether there is a surviving spouse who can also inherit
State inheritance laws
Siblings’ rights after their parent’s death can include the right to inherit their assets. However, those rights make take a backseat to a surviving spouse’s ability to inherit.
Generally, state inheritance laws give precedence to a surviving spouse ahead of any children. Some states grant children the legal right to inherit their parent’s estate, even if they were not included in their will. However, most states allow parents to exclude children from their will which can block them from inheriting anything.
How Does a Will Determine Siblings’ Rights After Parents’ Death?
A will is a legal document that allows the will-maker to specify how they would like their assets to be distributed after their death. The process for making a will varies from state to state but if someone passes away and there is a will in place, then that document serves as the basis for dividing their estate.
If both your parents pass away, then their estate would be divided among you and your siblings according to the terms of their will. There are different ways that parents may choose to do this. Here are a few examples of how a parental estate may be split among siblings:
One child gets the house and its contents, while their siblings split any remaining assets in the estate.
The executor sells the home and its contents and then split the proceeds of the sale equally among the siblings.
Each sibling receives specific property or assets from the estate that have equal value.
One child receives the entire contents of the parent’s estate, to the exclusion of all other siblings.
Those are just a few ways an estate might be divided among siblings. Those examples assume that both parents have passed away. In situations where there is a surviving spouse, the division of assets might look very different.
For instance, the surviving spouse might be the sole inheritor under the terms of the will. In that case, the siblings would receive nothing from the deceased parent’s estate during the surviving spouse’s lifetime. However, they may still inherit when the surviving spouse passes away if they will have any remaining assets for their children.
Estate planning can get even more complicated when siblings do not all share the same parents. For example, if your father divorced your mother and remarried in midlife, then their will might also have to account for any additional children they had with their new spouse. Whether those half-siblings receive the same inheritance rights as you will depend on your state’s inheritance laws.
Siblings’ Rights When a Parent Dies Intestate
Dying intestate means dying without a valid will in place. When a parent passes away without a will, state inheritance laws determine who gets what from the estate.
State inheritance laws typically have a “pecking order”, which prioritizes certain inheritors ahead of others. For example, New York probate law assigns the first $50,000 in assets, plus half of the remaining assets to the surviving spouse first. The remainder is then distributed among any children who stand to inherit. If there is no spouse, the siblings inherit everything.
Under state inheritance laws, siblings are treated equally. Any assets in the estate would be shared equally among you. If you and your siblings would prefer a different distribution of assets, that’s something you’d have to work out among yourselves after the estate is settled.
Are Siblings Entitled to See a Will or Trust?
You might assume that you and your siblings have an equal right to see your parents’ will or trust after they’ve passed away. However, most states limit the viewing of the will and trust documents to persons named as beneficiaries.
If you or your siblings were not listed in the will or trust as a beneficiary, then you don’t have an automatic right to review those documents. That can be problematic if one sibling receives the bulk of the parent’s estate.
In that scenario, it may be advisable to have an estate planning attorney or probate attorney step in. An attorney can advise you of your rights, including what options you might have if you’d like to see the will or contest its terms.
Can a Sibling Take Your Inheritance?
If a parent passes away with a valid will or trust in place, then the terms of either one must be upheld. That means a sibling technically would not be able to legally take assets that belong to you under your parent’s estate plan.
However, it’s possible that a sibling could attempt to challenge the validity of the will or the distribution of assets. A sibling would need to have a valid claim to challenge a will in probate court. For example, if they’re claiming the will was made under duress then they’d need to have evidence of that.
A sibling could also petition the court to ask for a larger share of the estate if they believe that they’re entitled to it. If one of your siblings, for example, was the primary caregiver for your parents in their final years and also provided them with financial support, they could ask the court to take that into consideration.
If you find yourself in a situation where a sibling is contesting your parent’s will or you believe you have a claim to contest it, talking to an estate planning attorney can help you figure out the next steps. An estate planning attorney can weigh the merits of the claim and help you to mount a defense, if necessary, in order to preserve your part of the inheritance.
The Bottom line
Siblings’ rights after parents’ death can be tricky to navigate, especially when there isn’t a will or estate plan in place. If you’re not an estate planning expert, you may be unsure of what rights you have and how to exercise them. Talking to your parents about their estate plan can help you and your siblings to avoid conflict when it’s time to divide up their assets.
Estate Planning Tips
Consider talking to your financial advisor about how to manage an inheritance from your parents. Your advisor can help you figure out a strategy for making the most of any assets you inherit. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be difficult. SmartAsset’s free tool financial advisor matching tool makes it easy to connect with professional advisors in your local area. It takes just a few minutes to get your personalized advisor recommendations online, get started now.
While you’re helping your parents with their estate plan, consider giving some thought to your own. Drafting a will is a good place to start, especially if you have young children that you’d like to name a guardian. You might also weigh the benefits of establishing trust. A trust allows you to transfer assets to a trustee, who is responsible for managing them according to your wishes. You could hire an estate planning attorney to help you create these documents or do it yourself using an affordable online software.
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