What is an heir?

The word “heir” describes a person who inherits property upon the death of another. It may be a spouse, child, descendant or other close relative. An heir cannot be determined until a person dies, because the heir apparent might die first.

Deeper definition

Depending upon the people involved and the inheritance at stake, who is and who is not an heir can become a delicate subject. Complicating the matter is the fact that there are a number of different types of heirs:

Presumptive heir — One who would, under present circumstances, be considered the heir. However, if another child is born to the decedent prior to his or her death, that child may become the presumptive heir.

Legally adopted heir — A child who is legally adopted gains the right to be considered an heir upon adoption.

Collateral heir — A relative who is not a direct descendant, such as a brother, sister, aunt, uncle, cousin, nephew, niece or parent.

Pretermitted heir — A child who has been inadvertently or accidentally left out of a will can claim rights as a pretermitted heir.

Although he or she may receive an inheritance through marital or community property laws, it is worth noting that a spouse is not an heir unless he or she is specifically mentioned in the will.

Heir example

The search for an heir is one of the first things that takes place when a person dies without a will. When that happens, the laws of the state in which they resided determine how their estate should be distributed, based on the rules of descent and distribution.

As much as a person may care for his or her heirs, allowing the state to determine where their assets are going means that non-heirs, such as a romantic partner or charitable foundation, will not receive any part of an inheritance. A will is the first, best way to make sure all parties are recognized, heir or not.

Take the next step and learn how to start writing your will.

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