Many of the legal and societal issues we deal with on a day-to-day basis have been around for so long that we never take the time to consider where they originated. The same is true with the idea of inheritances. The idea of a child, or someone else, inheriting a person’s property after that person dies has likely been around since before recorded history, and inheritance laws have existed since the earliest known societies.
The first known legal code in existence comes from the ancient Sumerian culture in Mesopotamia. The ancient Sumerian King Nammu established the Code of Ur-Nammu in about 2100 BC. In that set of laws there are several references to inheritance. Some of them are rather complex but in them we can recognize many of the same issues that exist today in our modern inheritance laws, such as the rights of spouses and the right to disinherit children.
While modern inheritance laws in the United States are determined by individual states, all of them stem from older laws that were brought over by the original English colonists. Many of these inheritance laws come from British common law, a system of law that developed over time in the United Kingdom. When the first English settlers reached what were then the New England colonies, they brought those laws with them. Even after the United States separated from Britain, many of the same British legal provisions remained and are still in place today.
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