What are the rules? Who gets what? Each state maintains its own laws as to which family members will receive an inheritance from a person who has died “intestate.”
What does it mean to have “died intestate”?
The person who has died is called “the decedent.” To have “died intestate” means the decedent died without a valid will in place. The decedent’s assets belong to their “estate” until the probate process is complete.
Who gets what when there is no will?
The assets of intestate estates are distributed among heirs according to the appropriate “line of succession.” Laws determining the exact line of succession vary significantly from state to state (reference the chart of intestate succession by state below).
How is the line of sucession for inheritance determined?
Often, identifying and locating individuals within a line of succession can be complex and difficult. Perhaps some of the family members have been estranged for many years and have since had children and died; their identities must be documented as estrangement does not exclude them from legal succession rights. Sometimes, individuals in the line of succession are not even aware of the existence of the decedent. In certain circumstances, persons in the line of succession could be as distantly related as first cousins once or twice removed, or even further distant in states such as Texas.
How can a forensic genealogist help in cases of intestate succession?
In such complex situations, legal professionals rely on the help of professional forensic genealogists. As professional forensic genealogists, we at Legacy Tree Genealogists are not involved in the legal process of declaring a will valid/invalid or adjudicating which family members will actually become beneficiaries and receive an inheritance from the estate, those matters are up to the court to decide.
Our job as professional forensic genealogists at Legacy Tree Genealogists, is to provide evidence of “kinship,” meaning evidence which proves who the family members are according to the appropriate succession line. This is done by gathering documents which will be used as evidence and providing a comprehensive report explaining the findings.
Our unbiased findings and evidence exhibits that will be used in court settings are presented in the form of a notarized sworn affidavit called an Affidavit of Diligent Search for Kinship. The affidavits can also be apostilled for use in courts outside of the United States. For more information about the probate research process and what to expect, review our Forensic & Probate Research FAQs.
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