How Much Should a Nineteenth Century French Bastard Inherit

By Doron Zeilberger

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(Appeared in J. Difference Eq. Appl. v. 3(1998),385-388. (Ladas issue).)

Being blamed for the parents' sin is as old as humanity. In 19th century French Law (if one is to believe Catalan), the portion of the inheritance due to a love-child was not a fixed ratio (1/3) of what his legitimate half-sibling was due (this would have still discriminated against him, but not put the blame on him), but it is 1/3 of what he would have gotten had he been legitimate, as though he could have helped it.

But unfair legal practices sometimes lead to interesting mathematics. Inheritance problems are as old as math, and were one of the practical motivations for inventing algebra. This inheritance problem has a twist in it, and the equation naturally leads to the use of the algebra of difference operators.

Note added March 21, 1997: I asked Dominique Foata, whether this unfair law is still in effect, and he promised to ask his neighbor, Maitre Philippe Hoepffner, who is a lawyer. Click here for his reply.

Note added May 26, 1997: Olivier Gerard has kindly sent me a detailed message about the French Ineheritance Law, that he kindly permitted to post here. Click here for his message.

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