Codicils and Trends in Succession Law

Succession law is the area of law which governs the transmission of property rights from one holder to other persons. When we talk about the law of succession we are discussing the movement of the rights to property, since of course some property such as land will not itself move. In Western legal systems and in many others, this transmission takes place on the death of the previous holder, consequently death has an important place in the law of succession. The transmission of property from one generation to another is common to virtually every legal legal system. American succession law is largely derived from the principles which were originally created in England.

There are a number of documents which might exist when a person passes away. There will usually be a death certificate issued by a doctor. In most cases there will also be a will which is then filed in the court that exercises probate jurisdiction in that geographical area. Around the world systems of succession perform basically the same function in different ways. Generally, in capitalist societies which have systems of personal property in operation most elements of a person’s estate are commodified by the legal system and then a rationale of distribution to the beneficiaries applies. This contrasts with the probate law of communist countries where individuals cannot legally own the means of production in the economy which may include land, machinery and other items which can be used for production. Societies vary on questions as to what constitutes property and who exactly is considered to be part of a family but the function of succession law is basically the same across all societies.

Interestingly, according to research done on the system of succession in the United States, it is generally people of higher socioeconomic status that are more likely to create wills and to pass on benefits to other people. Also, in the times since the liberalisation of the workforce to include women there has been a change from the system where people direct their inheritance through an estate to a system where family wealth is passed through corporate structures. If you look at the pattern of filed wills, the overwhelming majority of people leave their wealth to their spouse and then their children with some leaving their wealth to grandchildren. The number of people who leave wealth to charities is a tiny proportion of the overall number of estates. This pattern in succession appears to be common to the entire world. Another trend observed is that people tend to make codicils which are an amendment to a will only in circumstances which a child or grandchild is born at a time very close to their passing. In other cases, they may have an entirely new will drafted.