The Firstborn’s Double Portion
For much of history, there were few greater advantages in life than being a firstborn son. It is well-known that among the European nobility, the eldest son inherited both the family title and the family land. The younger sons either became knights or entered the clergy.
The idea of primogeniture has its roots in the Torah’s laws of inheritance, by which the eldest son receives a double portion of the inheritance. This means that if there were three sons, the inheritance would be divided in four, with two portions going to the eldest (for information on women and inheritance, click here.) A firstborn son is defined as the naturally delivered first child of the father’s line. If the child was delivered by c-section or has an older sister, he does not qualify as a firstborn son.
While these laws were culturally standard in many cultures for many generations, in the post-industrial era most children follow a career different from that of their parents. Today, few people distinguish their firstborn sons from their other children, and yet, halachically, the firstborn son still has rights to a double portion.
Because most parents today wish to divide their estates evenly, they write what is sometimes referred to as an “halachic will.” There are several ways in which a will can be used to provide an equal inheritance. The most common practice is for a person to create a contract in which the estate is technically given away a few minutes before the time of one’s death, rendering the estate a gift and not an inheritance.
Writing a will in an important responsibility. Those wishing to ensure that their will, or the will they intend to write is halachically sound, should consult their local rabbi.
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