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Ultimogeniture What It Means How it Works

Ultimogeniture What It Means How it Works

Ultimogeniture: What It Means, How it Works

What Is Ultimogeniture?

Ultimogeniture, also known as postremogeniture or junior right, is a system of inheritance whereby the youngest son gains possession of his deceased father’s estate. Many rural areas of medieval England and parts of France used this system, which often applied to farmland and personal property.

This system is very rare today. On the contrary, primogeniture, inheritance by a firstborn son, is slightly more common. Historically, primogeniture has been the most prevalent inheritance system.

Key Takeaways

  • Sons, rather than daughters, were traditionally granted primary beneficiary status in inheritance rules.
  • Ultimogeniture, or junior right, was a system whereby the last son to be born became the primary beneficiary.
  • Ultimogeniture was desirable for peasant or agricultural classes because it ensured older children remained on the farm to work.
  • Ultimogeniture can be contrasted with primogeniture, a method of inheritance favored by the elite classes whereby the firstborn son was the sole heir.

Understanding Ultimogeniture

Ultimogeniture, primogeniture, and other traditional inheritance forms are rare in modern society. Most developed countries rely on trusts and wills that explicitly state the decedent’s desires. However, in the past, birth order and gender tended to determine inheritance rights.

Practicality played a part in this system. People didn’t live as long in the past due to war and disease. Consequently, a family patriarch often died with one or more minor sons. Bequeathing land to the youngest son encouraged older minor children to remain on the farm until marriage. This maintained a captive workforce and provided enough labor to support the patriarch’s widow.

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While ultimogeniture kept sons on the farm, merchant families and nobility didn’t need physical labor. They tended to use primogeniture, granting succession rights to the firstborn son. Primogeniture was also the main method for establishing royal lineages and naming new kings.

As people began living longer, primogeniture and other social norms replaced ultimogeniture across all social classes.

Ultimogeniture vs. Modern-Day Inheritance

Today, inheritance depends less on gender and birth order. Women make up a substantial percentage of the workforce, and children may inherit from both parents, including split families and same-sex households.

No matter the family makeup, estate planning and a will are important. A will stipulates the bequest of assets to heirs and the settlement of estate taxes. Having a will eliminates the chance of intestacy, where probate courts decide on inheritance. In intestacy, property goes to a surviving spouse first, then to any children, extended family, and descendants. If no family can be found, the property reverts to the state. Creating a will can avoid intestacy and is relatively inexpensive with guidance from an experienced estate law attorney.

In addition to wills, wealthier families may set up trusts for legal protections. However, trusts are generally more complex and costly. It’s essential to understand that the trustee is in control of a trust, not the trust’s creator. For this reason, having a will that specifies asset distribution may be preferable in some cases.

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