What Is the Heir of a Deed?

By Erika Johansen

Deeds transfer property. An heir inherits property from a deceased property owner. Inheritance situations usually preclude the use of deeds; instead, an heir trying to take control of property will need to undergo a court proceeding to prove his heirship.

Use of Deeds

A deed is a legal document used to effectuate a property transfer. When the owner of property wants to transfer the property, he executes the deed and delivers it to the new owner. The deed takes effect at the moment of delivery. Property deeds must be written documents, signed by the owner of the property, which clearly identify the property being transferred and show a clear intent to transfer that property. Depending on individual states' laws, valid execution of a deed may require notarization, certain specified language contained in the deed itself, or recording of the deed with the county recorder.


An heir is an individual with the right to inherit from a deceased party. Inheritance is a specialized situation which exists when the deceased has died without any legal document specifying what he wants done with a piece of property. At this point, certain natural descendants of the deceased gain a legal right to the property. Individual heirs' rights to a piece of property can vary depending on state law; each state has its own system of inheritance and its own rules to define which parties are valid heirs.

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Heirs and Deeds

When the deceased has left a valid will, the beneficiaries of that will may find themselves dealing with a validly executed deed. However, in a typical inheritance situation, the property owner has died before he was able to execute a deed to transfer his property. Therefore, heirs will rarely actually deal with property deeds. Rather, the heir must present proof of his status as a heir, wait for the court to deem him a valid heir, and then allow the court to effectuate the property transfer.

Determination of Heirship

Each state has its own legal proceeding to transfer inherited property. This proceeding is usually known as "determination of heirship." Typically, the prospective heir must submit an affidavit that describes his legal relationship to the deceased. The court will also require the prospective heir to publish notice of the proceeding, in case other prospective heirs are out there and unaware of the proceeding. If the court finds the prospective heir to be a valid legal heir to property, it will not use a deed; it will execute an order determining heirship. Based on this order, the executor or administrator of the estate will prepare a deed transferring ownership. By presenting both the new deed and the court's order to the county in which the property is located, the heir can become the new owner.

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How to Petition the Court for Determination of Heirship


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