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QUESTION

Maryland, USA

Does one have to be worried about halakhic rules of yerushah (boys over girls, פי שנים for the בכור, etc.)? and therefore put all their money in a trust to go into effect a minute before death except a small amount to fulfill halakhic yerushah. Or, can this totally be ignored and fill out your will to have equal parts go to daughters and sons, etc?

ANSWER

Yes, you do need to worry about it. The Rishonim are explicit that dina demalkhuta does not apply here. See Rambam in Hilkhot Nachalot 6:1,

אין אדם יכול להוריש למי שאינו ראוי ליורשו ולא לעקור הירושה מן היורש אף על פי שזה ממון הוא, לפי שנאמר בפרשת נחלות והיתה לבני ישראל לחוקת משפט לומר שחוקה זו לא תשתנה ואין התנאי מועיל בה, בין שצוה והוא בריא בין שהיה שכיב מרע בין על פה בין בכתב אינו מועיל.

Some say it doesn’t apply to yerushah following an approach like Rambam, above, because it is not a standard mamon area that is given for reshaping (same way, to make an extreme comparison) we don’t say secular divorce works because of dina demalkhuta.) Others say it doesn’t work simply because dina demalkhuta has a more limited scope and doesn’t apply in many areas. See Shut HaRashba (6:254), Shulchan Arukh CM 369:6-11 (particularly Rema at end of se’if 11) and Sema 21 on Shulchan Arukh CM 369, Radvaz 1:545, and Rav Kook in Techumin vol. 3.

So – yes – you have to do a halakhic will, which can be basically a document that goes along with your legal will. Many lawyers with frum clients know how to do this. See here for the BDA’s document on this.

If you didn’t this, it would effectively be gezeilah. Of course, the heirs could agree to go by the will although they are entitled to a different distribution. The problem would be if they don’t want to do so. Let’s say the male heirs want to cut out their sister. So, yes – please encourage your congregants to do this. You can have someone from the BDA come and speak about it at your shul.