A person's estate typically passes to his heirs when he dies, though an heir stands to inherit an owner's property in several other ways. In South Carolina, for example, a decedent's estate can pass by will, based on ownership, through marriage or in accordance with the state's intestate succession laws.
When a person dies without a will, his heirs inherit according to the intestate succession laws. Idaho statute 62-2-102 permits the surviving spouse to inherit the entire estate if there are no children and half of the estate if the decedent had children. Section 62-2-103(1) states that any children inherit equal shares of the remaining estate. The parents inherit, according to 62-2-103(2), only if there are no children and no spouse. If the parents are deceased, subsection 103(3) grants inheritance rights to the decedent's siblings. More distant heirs, like cousins or nieces and nephews, may inherit next. Under 62-2-105, if there are no living heirs, the decedent's estate will pass to the state.
An heir can inherit by will if the decedent made a valid will before his death. In South Carolina, the decedent, referred to as the testator, must be no less than 18 years old. Additionally, the testator has to be "of sound mind," with full mental competence. This eliminates the possibility that a testator is the victim of undue influence by a potential beneficiary. To ensure validity, the will must be in writing, and the testator must sign it before two impartial witnesses who will also sign, confirming the testator's identity and mental capacity.
Not all property can be inherited from a will. Any provisions attempting to name or alter beneficiaries for exempt property are void. First, if property was placed in trust, the trustee is responsible for distributing the property to the trust's beneficiary upon the death of the grantor decedent. Additionally, any proceeds from the decedent's life insurance policy are paid to the policy's beneficiary upon submission of a death certificate. Lastly, if the decedent owned any joint property with one or more owners, the surviving owners automatically inherit equal shares of the decedent's percentage of ownership through the right of survivorship.
Spousal Right of Election
In South Carolina, if a surviving spouse is left out of a testator's will, she may have a right of election. The state does allow for intentional disinheritance, but the will or another writing must clearly express the testator's intention to not leave any property to his spouse. However, if no such language exists, the court assumes the omission was accidental and will award one-third of the testator's estate to the surviving spouse.