What are the siblings’ rights after their parent’s death?

You and your siblings’ rights after their parent’s death are subject to various laws. For example, your rights depend on relevant documents, transfer-on-death property, and state laws.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Mar 18, 2022

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  • A will makes your parent’s wishes clear, but they can legally transfer property without one
  • Outside of a life insurance policy or transfer-on-death property, you and your siblings’ rights are subject to intestate and probate laws
  • You can sue a sibling over a contested will, shared property, or intestate property

What are siblings’ rights after their parent’s death? That depends on a few factors, including the presence of a surviving spouse.

If your parents have wills, property transfers will generally go smoothly. Your state might govern who inherits what without such a document, and you might have some disputes. You and your siblings might even have a conflict when a will is present.

Find out what you can do with your parents’ property after they pass. For example, will you need a lawyer, and how can you settle any disputes equitably?

How does a will affect siblings’ rights after a parent’s death?

If your parent dies and leaves a will, that document and estate planning law usually govern what happens to their property. Usually, that means the following:

  • Your parent’s named heirs will have a right to claim any monies that your parents left them.
  • Named heirs can claim any real estate that the deceased person had.
  • Named heirs can claim stocks and bonds that the dead person owned if dictated in the will.

In many cases, deceased parents name all their children in their wills and split assets among the children. For example, if you have two siblings, you may inherit money while one of your siblings inherits a vehicle, and your deceased parent passes on a house to another sibling.

In some cases, a parent may dictate that their surviving children share some assets, like real estate. And in other cases, the parent might leave any or all their children out of their will.

If everyone agrees with the stipulations in the will and all named heirs are alive, all the property will go to each heir. And, of course, the executor of the will is responsible for carrying out a parent’s wishes.

That said, siblings can make agreements after receiving their inheritance. For example:

  • You inherit a house from your parent, but you can agree to allow one of your siblings to live in it indefinitely.
  • If your sibling inherited more money than you, the two of you are still free to share that money equally after its dispersal.
  • You and your sibling may decide to sell your property after receiving it.
  • You and your siblings may even trade your inheritance after receiving it.

Also, your parent can deliberately pass on some property or assets without a will.

Life Insurance Proceeds

Your deceased parent might have had a life insurance policy. Based on the named beneficiaries, you and your siblings may split the proceeds from the life insurance policy.

Retirement plans like a 401(k) or IRA also have named beneficiaries.

Money or Property Held in Joint Tenancy

If your parents have a joint bank account, the surviving parent is entitled to the money. The same is true if both parents have their name on the deed to their house. You also can say the same if one of your parents remarried and they have their names on a joint bank account or share a deed.

Neither you nor your siblings could inherit that money or property until both parents pass on. But if your stepmother or stepfather survives your parent, that is another issue.

Transfer-on-Death (TOD) Assets

Your parents can set up payable-on-death (POD) bank accounts. A POD account has a named beneficiary. So do transfer-on-death deeds for real instate, stocks in a TOD account, and vehicles with TOD title documents.

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What are siblings’ rights if their parents die without a will?

Intestate succession and probate laws govern who gets their property when someone dies in intestacy (without a will).  Thus, if two or more siblings survive their parents and the parents die in intestacy, a probate court may decide how to split the estate.

In many cases, the surviving children are entitled to an inheritance from someone who dies, even without a will. However, a surviving spouse may be first in line. In most states, a surviving spouse gets at least half of their deceased spouse’s estate and surviving children will receive half of what their parents owned or less.

If you live in a state like Alabama and your father widows your mother, she is entitled to $50,000 of the intestate property plus half of what’s left. Then you and any siblings you have will share the rest. In Alaska, your mother will receive all your dad’s property.

But if both your parents die and don’t leave widowed spouses, you and your siblings will likely inherit everything. Note that half-siblings have the same rights to intestate property as full siblings. Check your state’s intestacy rules, but deciding who gets what may be another issue entirely.

Can siblings sue each other for their deceased parents’ property, even if there is a will?

In a word, yes. If there is a dispute over the will, potential heirs can contest the document. Here are a few reasons why you and your siblings might sue each other for an inheritance with or without a will.

What if one of your parents had two wills?

If your father named you in an earlier will but took you out of a subsequent document, you might sue if one of your siblings pushed for that change.

What if your parents left you the house, and your sibling lives in it?

If your parents named you the owner in their will, you have a legal right to evict your sibling. Otherwise, you will need a probate court to make you the administrator first.

What if your parents left you and your sibling the house, but you disagree on what you should do with it?

You and your sibling would need to go to a probate court so the court will decide what to do with the house. The court will likely force a sale, and you or your sibling could buy the house.

Can you block one sibling from their inheritance?

Besides these scenarios, states can bar surviving children from their inheritance by establishing that the children mistreated a parent when that parent was living. For example, children who cause their parents’ deaths by negligence  might not inherit their parents’ property.

If that is the case for you and one of your siblings, there is a valid reason to sue.

What happens if you have a half-sibling?

You might find out that you have a half-sibling and your parent died without a will. Since half-siblings are entitled to intestate property from a shared parent, they can claim if they prove their relation (likely with a DNA test).

Siblings’ Rights After their Parent’s Death: Tips on Settling an Inheritance

There are things you need to know and do even before one or both of your parents die. One of your most important tasks may be talking to your parents and siblings about inheritance and your parents’ final wishes. After your parents pass on (especially without a will), you should do the following:

  • Gather all pertinent documents. Besides a will, make sure that you know if your parents had life insurance policies, bank accounts, and property. You will need these documents to prove your right to an inheritance and clarify things among your siblings.
  • Decide who is the executor. Whether you, a sibling or a third person is a named executor, that person is responsible for acting in your parents’ best wishes and overseeing a smooth transfer of assets.
  • Talk to a lawyer. You will need legal advice to solve any disputes and know your rights. Also, you will need a lawyer to mediate settlements out of court.

Now you know more about a sibling’s rights are after their parent’s death. In the meantime, take the time to read our legal advice forums for free insights from our legal community.

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