What is Heirship?

When a person dies without a valid will, his or her estate passes to heirs or certain classes of family members by intestate succession, as prescribed in individual state laws. The purpose of intestate succession statutes is to distribute the decedent’s property in an organized and methodical way. States have their own laws that determine how the property will be distributed.

It’s important to note that not all types of property pass by intestate succession. Property that you own alone in your name that would have passed through a will affects intestate succession. However, certain types of property are not considered to be part of the decedent’s estate for purposes of intestate succession laws, such as: property held in a living trust, life insurance proceeds, payable-on-death (POD) bank account, and any property held in joint tenancy with right of survivorship. Be sure to check your state’s intestate succession laws because different states have different list of property and assets that can pass by intestate succession.

Who Gets the Property by Intestate Succession?

Generally, heirs are grouped in classes, which are created to determine the order of whom the property will transfer to and the share of property among individual heir. The share of the property depends on who survives the decedent. For example, in most states, if a person dies with no surviving spouse but with three children, the children will take the entire estate. But, if the person dies with a surviving spouse and three children, the surviving spouse may take half of the entire estate and the other half to three children. The classes of heirs include the following:

  • The decedent’s surviving spouse
  • Descendants (children, grandchildren, and so on)
  • Parents
  • Descendants of decedent’s parents (siblings, nieces, and nephews)
  • Descendants of grandparents (aunts and uncles)

If none of the individuals above exist, the property may escheat to the state.

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