In the movie Knives Out (2019) there is a specific type of inheritance.

The old milionare bequested all of his property to his nurse, instead of giving it to his family. My question is : Could he really do it like this ? Could he omit all of his descendants and bequest his property to a non-family member ? (According to US Law).

Do the descendants have any right to get some money or property from the inheritance even when they were purposely omited from the passed one's will ?

Edit: The movie took place in America, not in Great Britain as I found out.

  • For what it's worth. the law of the UK (and of all its constituent parts) is irrelevant to the plot of Knives Out, because the story is set in Massachusetts. – phoog Jun 21 '20 at 5:05
  • I see, thanks for correction. – John Ronald Jun 21 '20 at 7:21

"British law" is a misnomer as inheritance law is very different in Scotland compared to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In English and Welsh law, a person can bequeath his property to whom he likes. However, relatives, dependants and others can challenge someone's Will by going to court and claiming 'reasonable financial provision' from the estate. Equally, if someone dies 'intestate' (ie they don't have a will) and beneficiaries are not happy about their inheritance (or lack of), they may be able to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. These types of claims must be made within 6 months from the date of the grant of probate (Grant of probate is the document issued by the Probate Service which acts as legal authorisation for the executor to deal with the deceased’s assets). The Court does have power to permit claims after this time limit has expired, but this would only be in exceptional circumstances.



The situation before 2015 in Scotland was: Scots law provides protection to a surviving spouse and children. Where an individual’s estate is subject to the Scottish rules of succession the surviving spouse/civil partner and children have an automatic entitlement to 'legal rights' (legitim) which if exercised will override the terms of the will. The surviving spouse and children must, however, decide whether to benefit under the terms of the will or make a legal rights claim as it is not possible for them to benefit twice.


The law has been changed by the Succession (Scotland) Act 2016 and some of the provisions of this Act may still be in consultation. It appears, although I can't find official sources, that legitim is being preserved but the method of calculation and the assets it refers to is being simplified.

The new rules have abolished the right of a widow (this never extended to widowers) and family of a deceased person to claim an allowance from the estate to purchase mourning clothes and provide an aliment to enable bills to be met until the estate was distributed. This was a common law right but has now been abolished.



In England (but not Scotland), individuals have testamentary freedom, meaning that they can bequeath their property to whoever they want. However... The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 allows children, present and former spouses and civil partners to challenge the will if the will does not make make reasonable financial provision for that individual. The court then asks if the claimant was financially dependent on the deceased, and was it reasonable for the deceased to disinherit him. In other words, maybe, maybe not, depends on the circumstances.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.