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Partible inheritance is a system of inheritance in which property is apportioned among heirs. It contrasts in particular with primogeniture (common in feudal society), which requires that the whole or most of the inheritance passes to the eldest son, and with agnatic seniority where the succession passes to next senior male.
Partible inheritance systems are therefore common ones to be found, in both Common Law and Napoleonic Code-based systems; in the latter case, there may be further requirement implying division according to a scheme, such as equal shares for legitimate children.
Partible inheritance has been common in ancient Celtic and Germanic tribal societies; an example of this pattern is so-called Salic patrimony. Historically speaking, non-partible inheritance has been associated with monarchies, and the wish that landed estates be kept together as units. In the Middle Ages, the partible inheritance systems of (for example) the Carolingian Empire and Kievan Rus had the effect of dividing kingdoms into princely states and are often thought responsible for their decline of power.
Partible inheritance was the generally accepted form of inheritance adopted by New Englanders in the 18th century. The southern colonies adopted a system of male primogeniture in cases of intestacy, while the northern colonies adopted a system of partible inheritance in cases of intestacy, with the eldest son receiving a double portion of the estate. In practice, a strong bequest motive in the colonies adopting multigeniture reduced the variability in demographic experiences across colonies with different inheritance systems.
- Alston, Lee J.; Schapiro, Morton Owen (June 1984). "Inheritance Laws Across Colonies: Laws and Consequences" (PDF). The Journal of Economic History. 44 (2): 277–287.