I’ve recently greatly enjoyed reading the entire Harry Potter series to my seven-year-old (who is sadly not yet allowed to watch the films due to all the swearing – Ron Weasley, I’m looking at you). I noticed that the question of Harry Potter’s inheritance comes up from time to time in the stories, and couldn’t resist pointing out a few interesting parallels between the legal system in the wizarding world and that in our own, whilst the books are fresh in my mind.
Harry Potter’s Guardians
In the first book, when Harry’s parents have died, the wizards decide that it will be safest for Harry go to live with his ‘muggle’ relatives until he is 11 and old enough to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In the muggle world, of course, parents of young children usually make Wills appointing guardians of their choice for their under 18s, so that if both parents die, there is a formal record of their wishes about who should bring up their children. Harry’s parents seem to have omitted to do this, unfortunately, which is why he ends up living with his unkind muggle relatives, who bitterly resent him and make him live in a cupboard under the stairs.
Age of Harry Potter’s Inheritance
When Harry goes to Hogwarts, it transpires that his parents, Lily and James, have left him a vault full of gold at Gringotts Bank, which half-giant family friend, Hagrid, shows Harry when he needs to buy his school books. The 11 year old Harry simply enters the vault and picks up some some gold to take with him.
In the muggle world, a beneficiary would not be able to access money held on trust for them until they were at least 18, or sometimes older, depending on the terms of their parents’ Wills. Usually, the parents’ Wills appoint trustees to look after the money on behalf of their children until they reach at least age 18. Trustees can advance money to cover the children’s living expenses, education etc in the meantime. However, Hagrid and the staff at Gringotts seem to have no such scruples, and Harry is allowed to help himself whenever he needs to. Fortunately, he turns out to be a very responsible 11-year-old.
Legacy of a House to Harry Potter
Further on in the story, Harry inherits his godfather, Sirius Black’s house in London. I don’t think we are told anything about when or how title is transferred (or if we are, my husband must have read that bit!), but Harry appears to be free to come and go from the house as he pleases, and he also inherits a mutinous, unpaid house elf, Kreacher, into the bargain. Slavery of any kind is, of course, illegal in the muggle world.
Harry Potter’s Lapsed Legacy
Towards the end of the series, Dumbledore dies and Harry is surprised to receive a legacy of two items in his Will. One of them is a snitch, which is passed on to him by the Ministry of Magic. The other, the Sword of Gryffindor, was apparently not Dumbledore’s to give away. In the muggle world, if someone leaves a legacy of something in their Will but does not own it when they die, the doctrine of ‘lapse’ applies, and the legacy will fail. A similar concept seems to apply in the wizarding world – the legacy fails and Harry does not inherit the sword.
The story of Harry Potter’s inheritance shows how important it is for the parents of young children to have in place Wills to ensure that their children would be looked after – both physically and financially – as they would wish, should the worst happen.
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