Determining Legal Heirs

Inheritance rights can determine who will have legal rights to claim your estate after you die. In many cases, inheritance rights could be tricky, especially if there are struggles within the family. Although you can consult a lawyer specializing in family law, it is important to know who heirs-at-law are and how they can qualify if a loved one is out of time to make an estate plan.

Who are heirs-a-law?

An heir-at-law is entitled to inherit from anyone who dies without leaving a last will or an estate plan. This could be an important factor in settling estates, especially when someone leaves a hefty amount of money and various properties.

How heirs-at-law qualify depends on where a person died and how much they own. Certain rules are different depending on the location of a person’s death.  Yet, there are general laws that could apply when an event such as this happens.

Heirs-at-law and their inheritance rights depend on an “intestate succession.” The closer one is related to a decedent, the higher the chance to be an heir-at-law.

First in line: Surviving spouse and children

The first in line to inherit an estate is a surviving spouse. It is important to note that the legal spouse is the one the deceased is married to. In various states, the spouse is to share the estate with their living children.

Grandchildren can only be heirs-at-law if their parents are deceased, too, as a parent’s share skips to the child over the decedent’s other children. This is called “per stirpes,” which means “by roots.” Under “per stirpes,” the estate is passed to the next generation and does not move “sideways” to other heirs of the same generation.

Second in line: Collateral heirs

If the deceased does not have a spouse and living children, their parents, siblings, grandparents, and other kin can inherit the estate. Intestate succession is passed in this particular order. They are considered collateral heirs because they can only inherit if there are no more immediate living family members.

Searching for unknown heirs

signing papers

When someone dies without a known heir-at-law, several states require that a notice be published in a newspaper. This will alert individuals to come out if they believe they are linked to a decedent. “Unknown heirs’ can file requests with the court to determine their heirship. This request will give them the right to be called heirs and eventually inherit what is left by the decedent. If there are no heirs-at-law, the estate will be “escheat” to the state. This means that the state where the decedent died will receive the properties left.

Understanding probate without a will

A probate is usually required when a person dies without a will. This person could still have properties or assets in their name. Yet, probate is a legal procedure where a property is officially transferred into the ownership of the living heirs-at-law.

Possible will contests

Deaths are never easy, especially when there is a huge amount involved. There are times when a decedent has prepared a will but omits someone who would have had the position to inherit if they had died intestate. This individual could challenge or contest the said will in court.

Not everyone has the power to “standing.” Standing means that the individual has a say in the estate. It could be that a deceased has left an estate to a single child and has omitted the existence of another child in the will. In this case, the heir-in-law will automatically gain their share.

When there is a will, heirs-in-law are not automatically entitled to receive an inheritance. It is only when a decedent died without an apparent heir would the court call for the heir-in-law. Moreover, one’s status as an heir-in-law does not mean that filing a lawsuit would always be in their favor. Heirs-at-law should establish that the deceased did not intentionally disown them.

However, a surviving spouse is always an exception to the rule. All U.S. states do not allow that a married individual to disown their spouse. The law is always in favor of the legal spouse to receive their fair share of the estate. When there are multiple marriages, it is always the first legal husband or wife who gets the inheritance. The spouse is consistently an heir-at-law, and they do not need to contest the will to claim their estate.

Inheritance is a complicated issue, especially for rich families. Yet, death is an inevitable event that could come with legal challenges. It is best to discuss issues regarding inheritance and family ties with a professional.

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