What Is a Collateral Heir?

By Ellis Roanhorse

Heirs are individuals who are entitled to inherit a deceased person's property. Many people die having written a will, which describes how they want their property distributed after death. Others die without a will -- or "intestate." State laws provide guidance regarding who receives a deceased person's property in the event the deceased person failed to make a last will and testament. Collateral heirs are a specific class of people who are not direct descendants of a person who passed away.

Intestate Succession

When a person dies with no will, state laws dictate which relatives receive his property and how much each relative receives. These laws are often referred to as "laws of intestate succession." The term "collateral heir" is commonly used when referring to heirs who stand to receive a portion -- or all -- of a deceased individual's estate according to laws of intestate succession, but who are not direct descendents of the deceased person.

Surviving Spouses

Technically, surviving spouses are neither heirs nor collateral heirs; however, they are typically entitled to receive a portion -- and sometimes all -- of their deceased spouse's estate. The law varies from state to state; a minority of states are community property states, while a majority are equitable distribution states. In community property states, when one spouse dies without a will, the surviving spouse may receive all property acquired during the marriage and a portion of the deceased spouse's separate property.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Children

When an individual dies without a will, his children are considered heirs and may receive a portion of his estate. Children are not collateral heirs of their deceased parents because they are direct descendents. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren are also direct descendents of their grandparents and parents. When a parent dies having left no surviving spouse and no will, children typically receive the estate in equal shares.

Collateral Heirs

Collateral heirs are a class of relatives who are not direct descendents of a deceased person. For example, the parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews of a deceased person are all collateral heirs because they are not direct descendents of a deceased person. Cousins, aunts and uncles are also collateral heirs. Collateral heirs may share a portion of a deceased individual's estate -- pursuant to laws of intestate succession -- if the deceased individual had no surviving spouse, children or grandchildren.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
The Hierarchy of Heirs

References

Related articles

The California Law When the Deceased Has No Will

If a person dies intestate, or without a will, in California, his estate is subject to California's intestacy laws. Unlike a will, which allows a person to name all those he wants to inherit from his estate, intestacy laws automatically consider his living family such as his spouse, children, parents and siblings.

Who Is Legally the Next of Kin?

Next of kin is a legal term that comes up when someone has died without a will. If an individual dies without leaving a valid will, her estate passes to the relatives described as next of kin in the state's intestacy laws. Most states consider the deceased's surviving spouse and children next of kin for inheritance purposes.

"Interested Person" Probate Definition

If you have a financial stake in the estate of a decedent or a legal obligation to the estate, probate law defines you as an "interested person." Although state laws and definitions vary somewhat, they usually bear similar guidelines. Florida statutes, for example, define an interested person as anyone who is “affected by the outcome” of probate proceedings and this is the norm.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help.

Related articles

The Rules of Inheritance

The rules of inheritance are set according to state law. Each state has its own statutes that explain which relatives ...

Probate Laws on the Next of Kin

When someone dies without a will, state laws -- the so-called "laws of intestate succession" -- determine who inherits ...

How to Determine Who Is an Heir

Although the terms "heir" and "beneficiary" are often used as though they mean the same thing, they do not. ...

The Definition of an Heir in California Probate

In California, the term "heir" is defined in the state's probate code. Heirs are people who are entitled to inherit a ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED