What Is Succession?

Succession is the orderly passage of power, assets, or other property from one entity to another. Legal rules documents govern succession with regard to the assets of estates after a person dies. Corporate and government structures also typically create rules of succession to ensure the orderly transfer of power under a variety of circumstances.

Understanding Succession

Succession takes place when circumstances require an entity to pass power, assets, or property to some other party. Typical triggers for succession include retirement, death, obsolescence, or incapacitation. Under ideal circumstances, all parties involved in succession have prepared and documented a plan so that the process moves smoothly, allowing any successor to fulfill any new duties in a way fully compatible with all other entities in place.

Succession in Estate Planning

In estate planning, wills and trusts provide control over the succession of a person’s assets after they die. For example, a personal, revocable trust provides an opportunity to move assets into an entity outside the estate while providing specific instructions regarding who holds the assets, as well as how and when those assets get distributed in the future. When coupled with a pour-over will, which moves any remaining assets out of an estate and into a trust, most people can exercise full control over the legal succession of their assets.

For estates where the deceased has no will, legislative rules govern who receives the assets of an estate through a process called intestate succession. In the U.S., these laws vary from state to state and typically favor the rights of spouses and children over other descendants. Unrelated individuals or organizations rarely receive property via these rules, even if the deceased made informal requests that they benefit from the estate. Under intestate succession laws, some states will seize the assets of individuals who die without surviving relatives.

Presidential Succession in the United States

Many organizations and governments use explicit rules of succession to ensure an orderly transfer of power in the event key leaders become unable to fulfill their duties. The United States provides for the succession of executive power in the U.S. Constitution, supplemented by Presidential Succession Acts passed by Congress in 1792, 1886, and 1947. Among other things, the rules chart out the hierarchy of who would inherit the powers of the U.S. President in the event of death, incapacitation, resignation, or removal from office via impeachment. The U.S. Vice President stands first in the line of presidential succession, followed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. After these elected positions, various cabinet members fill slots inline, provided they fulfill the requirements to hold the office. One of the members of the line of succession gets appointed the designated survivor to remain in an undisclosed separate location during events such as a presidential inauguration or State of the Union address when all others in the line of succession gather in the same place at the same time.