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Nordic Inheritance Law through the Ages – Spaces of Action and Legal Strategies explores the significance of inheritance law from medieval times to the present through topical and in-depth studies that bring life to historical and contemporary inheritance practices. The contributions cover three themes: status of persons and options in the process of property devolution; wills, gift-giving and legal disputes as means to shape the working of the law; processes of inheritance legislation.

The authors focus on instances where legal strategies of various actors particularly reveal inheritance law as a contested and yet constrained space of action, and somewhat surprisingly show similar solutions to family law issues dealt with in other Western European countries.

Contributors are: Simone Abram, Gitte Meldgaard Abrahamsen, Per Andersen, Agnes S. Arnórsdóttir, John Asland, Knut Dørum, Thomas Eeg, Ian Peter Grohse, Marianne Holdgaard, Astrid Mellem Johnsen, Már Jónsson, Mia Korpiola, Gabriela Bjarne Larsson, Auður Magnúsdóttir, Bodil Selmer, Helle I. M. Sigh, and Miriam Tveit.
Author: Miriam Tveit

Abstract

The article aims to identify the legal approach to ‘backwards inheritance’ in medieval Scandinavian law. When a person dies without descendants, the right to inherit from that person reverts to his or her ascendants, which could result in the property of one family falling to another family through marriage. In this article, the circumstances under which backwards inheritance was accepted or tried to be prevented in law is discussed, as well as the question of what the legislators’ strategies were. Scandinavian inheritance systems suggest that paternal inheritance rights dominated. However, the present study asserts that the legislation did not necessarily protect the interest of either the paternal or maternal kin group, but rather displayed concern for the surviving family.

In: Nordic Inheritance Law through the Ages

Abstract

The relevance in terms of inheritance of a child being born outside wedlock is not only of historical interest. Children born out of wedlock in Denmark gained the legal right to inherit from their biological father in 1938, but if a father denied paternity, for centuries he was almost certainly not formally identified as the father, often due to the strict legal requirements of proof of fatherhood used in court. Further, from 2008, a father has been able to de facto hinder inheritance for his child born outside the marriage he was in at the time of his death, to such an extent that these children can be considered the ‘new illegitimate children’. This chapter examines the space of action fathers are given by the legislator in these two periods of time. The similarities of this comparison, including an examination of the preparatory works, show surprising correlation and interesting perspectives.

In: Nordic Inheritance Law through the Ages

Abstract

As a fundamental rule, unmarried cohabitees in Denmark do not succeed to one another’s property under the Danish Inheritance Act (arveloven). Accordingly, cohabitants need to draw up a will in order to inherit from each other. However, various rules in Danish legislation may lead to a situation where an unmarried cohabitant receives assets on the occasion of the other cohabitant’s death. Thus, people in reality experience and understand this as inheritance. In this article, it will be questioned whether unmarried cohabitants have some sort of inheritance rights in Denmark in practice. Especially in relation to insurance and pensions, an unmarried cohabitant holds an advantageous position in Denmark, and the main focus of this article is therefore this topic. However, two other related legal areas will be mentioned briefly. The article concludes that there is no one clear or simple answer to the question – and some politico-legal reflections on the legal effects of the legislation on this area are made.

In: Nordic Inheritance Law through the Ages
Author: John Asland

Abstract

This article describes and analyses the process leading up to equal inheritance rights for male and female heirs in Norway and the counter-measures taken in the Norwegian Inheritance Act of 1854 and later as a consequence of the act, especially regarding freedom of testation and allodial rights.

In: Nordic Inheritance Law through the Ages

Abstract

The aim of this paper is to extend our knowledge of how the joint property system functioned among nuclear burgher families in late-medieval Stockholm. By studying the distribution of properties, settled inheritance disputes and mutual or individual gifts between spouses, I am able to identify situations when the marital partnership was threatened. The cases in question are codified in the town court protocols. This confirmation became the legal proof of possession. In order to argue his case, the burgher referred to his account book, which was sometimes brought before the town court.

Of the Nordic countries, it was only in Sweden-Finland that urban property was distinguished from rural property. The two types of property were regulated by separate inheritance and succession laws. I argue that certain regulations in the Swedish Town Law facilitated devolutions and were used by burghers to promote business. I demonstrate that it was easy for spouses in a town to transfer lineal property from the male to the female line, something that, according to the Swedish Law of the Realm and in practice, was impossible to do in a rural marriage. The transactions made by husband and wife during the 1480s and 1520s in the town of Stockholm demonstrate a strong marital unit that always favoured the nuclear family – which in effect also meant their business – over their relatives. In the case of a death, the accumulated property of the partnership continued to be managed by the surviving spouse, even if he or she remarried. This, again, was out of the question for a widow in a rural setting.

In: Nordic Inheritance Law through the Ages

Abstract

Guardianship of underage inheritors was an essential mechanism of property devolution in medieval Nordic societies. Although poised to obtain heritable assets by rules of descent and distribution, minors were subject to the control of guardians, who protected and managed their property and distributed their material nurturance from their capital until they reached majority. Despite ample and elaborate clauses pertaining to guardianship in Nordic legislation from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, scholarship has largely overlooked its predications and procedures, and thus underappreciated an important feature of Nordic inheritance law. Shedding light on these themes, this article reconstructs the normative model of guardianship as presented in west-Nordic laws, those being the Grágás laws of Free State Iceland and the Norwegian provincial codes of the Law of Gulathing and the Law of Frostathing, as well as the consolidated legislation of the late-thirteenth century, including the Law of the Realm (1274) and Icelandic Jónsbók. Comparison between the Icelandic and Norwegian paradigms reveals that although they were in many respects related, nuances between them reflect fundamental differences in those societies’ customs for property devolution. Secondary comparison with other Nordic and Roman models also highlight both particularities and similarities between Norse and foreign laws of inheritance.

In: Nordic Inheritance Law through the Ages

Abstract

Through the information found in medieval charters, this article gives a brief overview of matters related to inheritance within one of the most influential families of medieval Scandinavia; the barons of Bjarkøy are scrutinized from beginning of the fourteenth century, through the generations that follow, until the time of Gørvel Fadersdatter at the turn of the seventeenth century. As several separate lines of descendants were established, we can see how the level of conflict rose. How marriage, joint ownership between spouses, inheritance and gift-giving were carried out in practice is compared to the normative sources, mainly the provisions in Magnus the Lawmender’s Law of the Realm and canon law. The contents of the charters make it clear that we are faced with a group of people with knowledge of the law and how it could be used, and an understanding that the law could also be manipulated in order to achieve favourable marriages.

In: Nordic Inheritance Law through the Ages
Author: Simone Abram

Abstract

This chapter approaches inheritance as a form of intergenerational gift, with reference to anthropological theories of exchange and kinship. In doing this, it considers a particular kind of property, the Norwegian holiday home, and the distinctive practices attached to its use and inheritance. The chapter shows how the holiday home attracts a particularly acute role in family relations during the process of inheritance from parents to children, and illustrates how legal concepts are adopted from one arena and applied to another.

In: Nordic Inheritance Law through the Ages
Author: Thomas Eeg

Abstract

Until recently, statutory provisions regarding inheritance rights in favour of a surviving person who had lived together in a non-kindred relationship with a person who passed away have only encompassed spouses. Such inheritance rights in a modern sense can be dated back to 1687 for surviving spouses, while provisions granting such rights to the survivor of unmarried cohabitation have only existed since 2009. However, these provisions do not include all couples normally referred to as cohabitants, a way of living together that has expanded significantly since c. 1970. Today, approximately one-quarter of all couples live together in cohabitation, and three-quarters in marriage. This article clarifies how the position within inheritance law has differed between surviving spouses and cohabitants, starting with a historic approach and continuing until the current legal situation. The argumentation and societal background for unequal treatment, including demographical developments since the 1970s, is examined. Furthermore, an expert committee’s proposal of 2014 for a new Inheritance Act, proposing, to all intents and purposes, equality between surviving spouses and cohabitants, and a draft bill of 2018 approved by the Government rejecting such equality, is discussed.

In: Nordic Inheritance Law through the Ages