An heir-at-law is somebody who is legally eligible to inherit from a deceased person who did not leave a will or any other estate planning documents behind when they passed away. This status can be an essential component not only in settling an estate but also in establishing who could be entitled to challenge or contest a will when the deceased does leave one. If the deceased did make a will, this status might be used to determine who has the right to do so.
Who exactly is a legal heir?
The location of the decedent’s death and the kind of assets he owned at the time of his passing both play a role in determining who, if anyone, is eligible to be an heir-at-law. Because the regulations are formulated independently by each state, there may be some variation between them. However, the legislation in most states is extremely similar to one another.
The determination of heirs-at-law and the rights to inherit often follows a sequence that is referred to as “intestate succession.” The likelihood that you are an heir-at-law increase in direct proportion to the degree to which you were biologically connected to the person who passed away.
Couples and Children Who Are Still Alive
If the deceased person was married, the survivor of that marriage is always given precedence when it comes to inheritance. In the majority of states, she is entitled to an equal portion of the estate along with his surviving children.
Because it is customary for a parent’s share to slip over to the child rather than to the child’s siblings or the decedent’s other children, his grandchildren would only be heirs-at-law if both of their parents had passed away before them.
This method of proceeding through the legal system is referred to as “per stirpes,” which literally translates to “by roots.” Bequests are typically passed down to the succeeding generation in this manner. They do not move “sideways” relative to those of the same generation as them.
Additional Relatives, often known as “Collateral Heirs,”
Only in the event that the decedent did not leave behind a living spouse, children, or grandchildren would the deceased person’s parents, siblings, grandparents, and other next of kin be eligible to inherit. This is the typical order in which intestate succession occurs. These individuals are referred to as “collateral heirs” since they would only be eligible to inherit the estate in the event that there were no more direct relatives still alive.
Discovering Long-Lost Heirs
When it seems like someone has died without any known heirs-at-law, some states require that a special notice be put in the newspaper, telling people to come forward if they think they were related to the person who died.
This notice encourages individuals to come forward if they believe they are related to the decedent. These individuals then have the ability to submit petitions to the court for decisions of heirship, which would give them the legal right to inherit the property.
There are businesses whose job it is to find and identify next of kin and heirs-at-law, but sometimes all you need to do is look at the deceased person’s personal papers to learn something useful.
In the event that there are no heirs at law who can be located, the estate of the deceased person will normally “escheat” to the state. To put it another way, the state would be the recipient of his property.
Probate in the Absence of a Will
Even in cases where the deceased person did not leave a will, the probate process is often necessary. If he held any property or assets in his sole name, then he still has an estate, and the legal process known as probate is the one that is used to transfer that property into the possession of live beneficiaries when someone passes away.
Which State’s Laws Should Be Followed?
The laws of intestacy of the state in which the deceased person resided at the time of her death decide, in the majority of instances, who the deceased person’s legal heirs are. If she owned real estate or tangible personal property in another state, the laws governing the intestate succession of that state could apply.
This state’s authority would not extend over her entire estate; rather, it would be limited to the one property that is physically located within its borders. The manner in which the property ought to be divided will be decided by that state. This can sometimes lead to a distinct group of beneficiaries or to different shares being distributed among the same group of beneficiaries.
Will Contests and Inheritors at Law
This individual has “standing” to challenge or contest the will in court if the deceased person did leave a will but glaringly omitted someone who would have inherited if the deceased person had died intestate instead of leaving a will.
It is not possible for just anyone to do this since “standing” requires the individual to have some kind of financial interest in the estate. This could be the situation if the parent who has passed away gave their entire inheritance to one of their children and made no mention of the other child in their will at all. It is possible for an heir-in-law to qualify.
The fact that an individual is an heir-in-law does not guarantee that a legal challenge to the validity of the will be successful. In addition to this, the heir at law would need to provide evidence that the deceased did not willfully disavow him by omitting his name from the will.
When there is a will that doesn’t specify an heir-in-law, it doesn’t mean that the heir-in-law automatically has the right to inherit. This right can only be used if the deceased person left no will at all or if there are problems with the most recent will.
One person who is exempt from this restriction is a surviving spouse. Every state has a law against a married person disowning their spouse, and the states also have rules in place to ensure that she gets her fair portion of any estate the man leaves behind.
She is always an heir at law, but in order for her to receive her part, she would not need to challenge the will. She would, however, be required to bring the omission to the attention of the probate court, which would typically be done through the filing of a claim.
Questions That Are Typically Asked (FAQs)
In the state of California, who are considered heirs-at-law?
If the deceased person was married, the surviving spouse takes precedence over the children of the deceased person, as is the case in the vast majority of states. Since California is a community property state, however, the only way for a surviving spouse to inherit the entirety of an estate is if the decedent did not leave behind any children.
If this were not the case, then all of the assets that were considered community property would be theirs. Their individual assets would be shared between the surviving spouse and any children they might have.
What takes place in the event that a person passes away without leaving a will and no heirs-at-law can be located?
In the majority of states, the entirety of the estate would “escheat” to the state in the event that no living heirs could be located for the deceased person. There is no way that it could ever be shared with family, close friends, or casual acquaintances.