An heir is a person who is legally entitled to Inherit a deceased person's Assets, like real estate property, cash, investments, or other personal valuables, when that person passes away without a valid Last Will and Testament, or when their will does not specify to whom to give assets.
Heirs are determined by the state specific Laws of Intestacy and a as such, have a defined order of priority based on their familial relationship to the deceased, though they are most often Surviving Family members, like children, spouses and siblings.
This is what differentiates heirs from Beneficiaries; an heir is automatically entitled to a deceased person's assets based on state law, where as a beneficiary must be named in a will, or other legal documents.
For those who want to ensure that the Assets of their Estate are distributed according to their wishes after they die, it's important to create a will and Estate Plan, otherwise state law will determine who will receive their assets.
Key points about heirs include:
Laws of Intestacy: When a person dies without a will, also known as having died Intestate, state law determines how their assets will be Distributed. These laws specify the order of priority for potential heirs.
Order of Priority: The order in which potential heirs inherit under the Laws of Intestacy typically follows a specific hierarchy based on familial relationships. Common categories of heirs include surviving spouse, children, parents, siblings, and then more distant relatives.
Spousal Rights: In many states, a surviving spouse is typically the first in line to inherit from a deceased person's estate. However, the specifics of spousal inheritance rights can vary, based on Community Property Laws and other circumstances.
Half-Siblings: Half-siblings are generally considered heirs in the same manner as full siblings, although specific laws may vary by state.
Children: Children of a deceased person, whether biological or adopted, are often primary heirs and typically inherit in equal shares if there is no will.
Grandchildren: If a child of the deceased has already passed away, their children (the grandchildren of the deceased) may inherit their parent's share.
Illegitimate Children: Laws vary regarding the inheritance rights of illegitimate or non-marital children, but many jurisdictions have changed their laws to treat them equally with legitimate children.