Inheritance refers to assets or wealth that an individual bequeaths to a person or organization following the individual’s death. The recipient of the inheritance is referred to as an heir or beneficiary. 

Inheritance can take various forms, including: 

  • Will: Many people leave instructions for how they would like their assets to be distributed after their passing through a will. Often, a person’s will designates which people or organizations should inherit their assets. 
  • Intestate succession: When a person dies without a will or other estate planning documents, their estate is distributed according to the laws of intestate succession. These laws vary by jurisdiction, but generally prioritize the deceased’s spouse, children, and other close relatives. 
  • Trusts: Assets might be held in and managed by a trust, which often have specific terms for when, how, and to whom the assets will be distributed. 
  • Beneficiary designations: Assets like life insurance, retirement accounts, and bank accounts with payable-on-death (POD) or transfer-on-death (TOD) designations are passed to named beneficiaries. 

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