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Say we're in a jurisdiction where noble titles are inherited on the basis of primogeniture. The holder of a noble title dies, and their closest surviving heirs are twin siblings for which there is absolutely no reliable evidence for the relative order of birth. (Perhaps the mother gave birth alone and then died before telling anyone which twin came first.) Let's further stipulate that the sex of the siblings does not come into play; either both siblings have the same sex, or else the jurisdiction does not favour one sex over the other when it comes to inheritance of titles. Both siblings want to assume the title. Unlike personal and real property, a noble title is indivisible and cannot normally be sold, so it's not possible to award the title, or half of its value on sale, to each claimant.

What does the law say about who inherits the title? If the law says nothing, and the siblings take the matter to court, on what basis would the matter be decided? Could the judge legally order the title to be awarded at random to one of the claimants?

I'm most interested in answers specific to British nobility, but would also be interested in hearing how this case would be handled in other jurisdictions.

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  • Not even in the UK this is relevant at all anymore... The solution is and always has been a will.
    – Trish
    Commented Feb 20 at 22:28
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    British common law? Title goes to whoever gets the most backing (or the biggest army, which is often the same thing).
    – Mark
    Commented Feb 21 at 4:52
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    @Trish I'm fairly certain that British nobles cannot decide who will inherit their titles, neither by a will nor by any other means.
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 21 at 10:42

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The title goes into abeyance

There is no general rule for how an English title is inherited; each is its own special case based on the letters patent that created it.

However, there is a general rule in England (Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland have their own rules) that where there are heirs with equal claims, the title goes into abeyance (no one holds it) until there is only one claimant.

For your example, when one of the siblings dies, the other inherits the title. Unless the dead sibling has living issue, who would also be claimants and the abeyance would continue.

Since the early 20th century, no claim to end an abeyance should be considered if the abeyance has lasted more than 100 years, or the claimant has less than one-third of the dignity.

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