Contract states

Upon the death of the stockholder his interest shall pass to the oldest son or oldest daughter.

I am the oldest daughter and have a younger brother. Who gets the interest?

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    ...having reconsidered, I think the question is actually on-topic, even though it is legalese. There is grammatical/semantic significance in the repetition of oldest (since it wouldn't normally be done). – FumbleFingers Oct 19 '11 at 6:00

My suspicion is that you have fallen foul of wordy American drafting by someone who isn't used to dealing with succession issues. This is the stuff of which very expensive family disputes are made.

There's no linguistic suggestion that it definitely privileges one gender over the other. I would suggest that to an English lawyer, the most natural reading would be that it means "eldest child", especially if there is an interpretation clause that provides that one gender imports all others.

The actual effect of this provision may not be to determine devolution of the interest, but to restrict the possible modes of devolution, depending on the type of document this is. In that case, it means that the interest may be left to either the eldest son or the eldest daughter, but to no other (presumably excluding the second daughter who is oldest than the eldest son). That is to say, the interpretation of this sentence very much depends on the other contents of the document, and the type and effect of the document.

I strongly suggest that you, your brother, and parent get together with a lawyer and resolve this before your parent dies, if there's much of value at stake.


My first thought was this is a question about legalese that would probably get closed. My advice to OP is consult a lawyer if the meaning is important to her. My layman's opinion of the text is...

oldest son or oldest daughter implies oldest son if there are any sons, otherwise oldest daughter. So OP's brother will inherit.

  • Do you say that because 'oldest son' precedes 'oldest daughter' in the sentence? – Barrie England Oct 19 '11 at 6:36
  • @Barrie: Yes. But suppose the second oldest hadn't been present, and the oldest siblings were boy/girl twins, and there was no record of which twin was delivered first. Then I'd say son coming first had no significance - the will would be invalid, and they should get half each (as per the legal default in the UK). – FumbleFingers Oct 19 '11 at 6:52
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    Typically, legalese is more careful than this. 'Oldest son or, if none such exists, oldest daughter...' would be more par for the course. I think the jump to assuming that the son will be prioritized (which I agree with) is made more on the basis of cultural knowledge than grammar. Grammatically, what the contract implies is a choice - X or Y - which, since the writer is dead, could only fall to whomever was selected as the executor of the will. – user13141 Oct 19 '11 at 7:28
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    Natural languages are highly redundant, but redundancy in languages doesn't imply unnecessary repetition. For example, in "I am ready," I is redundant, but not unnecessary; if you would heard just "am ready" (because background noises), you would probably take that who has spoken said "I am ready." It is relevant because the OP seems confused from the repetition of older. I think the OP would be able to understand "I will eat an apple or an orange." – kiamlaluno Oct 19 '11 at 7:36
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    I would argue that it means what @FumbleFingers figures, for the reason that if it meant "oldest child", it would simply say so. Legalese is painfully redundant, but not simply for redundancy's sake. That said, it's conceivable that a judge in 2011 might not want to honour such a sexist provision... – Karl Knechtel Oct 19 '11 at 12:03

In Sweden (and some other royalist countries), there is now the idea of a "fully cognate succession." That is, the oldest child will inherit the throne, whether boy or girl. Depending on the context, it could have a similar meaning here. It's no longer clear whether the oldest SON comes first, if he has an older sister.

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