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Inspired by this question.

If a non-Jew dies, do his children (or other inheritors) automatically assume possession of his properties (karka), loose items (metaltelin), and debts the way Jewish inheritors do, or do they need to do an action of acquisition (kinyan)?

If they do not automatically acquire the inheritance, does it become, free-for-all (hefker) until they do an act of acquisition (kinyan)?

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Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/10115 – msh210 Apr 18 '12 at 18:34
up vote 6 down vote accepted

The Rambam, in Hilchot Nachalot 6:9, rules that:

הגוי יורש את אביו, מן התורה; אבל שאר ירושותיהן, מניחין אותן לפי מנהגם
A non-Jew inherits his father according to Torah law; however, the for the rest of their inheritances, we leave them according to their customs.

The ruling regarding a father to son is based on the Talmud Kiddushin 18a which derives this rule from the verse in Devarim 2:9:

כִּי לִבְנֵי-לוֹט, נָתַתִּי אֶת-עָר יְרֻשָּׁה
because I have given Ar unto the children of Lot for an inheritance.

The Maggid Mishnah on the Rambam points out that the reason we leave the law up to the local custom in the other cases is:

שלא מצינו שיהיה סדר נחלות אלא לישראל בלבד
for we have not found an order of inheritance except for Jews

implying, that the difference is as regards order of inheritance, not the existence of the right of inheritance. As such, it seems that the son, or whoever else happens to be the one inheriting, acquires the property immediately parallel to the rules of inheritance by Jews.

The Minchat Chinuch (Mitzva 400) questions this read and suggests that indeed with the exception of a father-to-son, all other non-Jewish deaths are like the deaths of a relative-less convert whereby all their property is rendered ownerless.

Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach (Minchat Shlomo 1:86) rejects this Minchat Chinuch, affirming that the Rambam held that the non-Jewish inheritance customs do affect Jewish civil law and that the other inheritances work as per local custom.

He also notes that even according to the Minchat Chinuch, the rule Dina DeMalchuta Dina would ensure that it remains forbidden to take the property of a son-less non-Jew.

Some (Peri Yitzchak 2:60, Har Tzevi Yoreh Deah 223) debate if the above discussion about fathers and sons applies equally to mothers and daughters.

I finally note that the Shulchan Aruch excludes the part about local custom in his ruling on the matter in Choshen Mishpat 283:1.

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Jumping straight to Rambam? – Baal Shemot Tovot Apr 17 '12 at 21:18
What's this about the property of converts becoming ownerless? Is that just Minchat Chinuch, or is he citing established halacha (in which case I'll probably ask a new question about it)? – Monica Cellio Apr 17 '12 at 21:21
@MonicaCellio I edited to clarify. It's referring to a ger who has no inheritors (children or spouse). His property does become ownerless upon death. This is the (I think) uncontested law and is codified in Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 275:1. – Double AA Apr 17 '12 at 21:31
Oh, a ger with no spouse/children -- yeah, that makes perfect sense. Thanks. I read the original as saying even in that case, and that didn't make sense. – Monica Cellio Apr 17 '12 at 21:45

It seems they do (from the Gemara in Kidushin 18 and Maran Habet Yosef in SHU"T Avkat Rochel Siman 90).

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