Who Is Legally the Next of Kin?

By Teo Spengler

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.

Determining Heirs

If a person writes a valid will before she dies, all of her property passes under that will to the persons or entities the will identifies as her beneficiaries, regardless of whether they are family or relatives. If she dies without a will, however, state intestacy laws apply. Most state intestacy laws only permit spouses and blood relatives to inherit and unmarried partners take nothing.

Who Gets What

State laws vary about how an intestate estate is divided. If the deceased's spouse is living, she generally gets the largest portion of the estate; children, biological and adopted, share the rest. Laws often give a predeceased child's inheritance to his living children. The surviving spouse may take all if the couple was childless. Other blood relatives inherit if the deceased left neither spouse nor children.

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The Hierarchy of Heirs
 

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Arkansas Inheritance Laws

In Arkansas, a resident can make a valid will if he's at least 18 years old and mentally competent. Arkansas law also requires a will to be written and attested by two witnesses. If an Arkansas resident dies without a will, his property passes to his surviving spouse and other heirs according to state law. These laws are called "laws of intestate succession." When someone dies without a will, he is said to have died "intestate."

Mississippi Estate Inheritance Laws

If a Mississippi resident fails to make arrangements for the division of his property by making a will, his property will be divided according to state law. These laws are known as "laws of intestate succession," and they provide a distribution scheme that dictates a priority of heirs. In other words, certain relatives are entitled to all, or a portion of, a decedent's estate under certain circumstances -- if he didn't make a valid will. Dying without a valid will is known as dying "intestate."

Laws on Inheritances

Every state has its own set of unique laws that govern inheritance. These laws, known as "laws of intestate succession," provide guidelines as to the priority of heirs. In other words, these laws explain who is entitled to an inheritance -- and how much they're entitled to receive -- when a relative dies without a will or dies with an invalid will.

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