The term surviving family refers to the immediate relatives who continue to live on after the death of a loved one. These are the family members who are "survived" by the deceased.
The composition of a surviving family can vary depending on the deceased's relationships, but is most often their spouse, children, parents, siblings, and grandparents.
However, it's possible that other close relatives such as aunts, uncles, cousins, and in-laws, may also be considered part of a surviving family.
The definition is important because these individuals often have legal rights, responsibilities, and entitlements when it comes to the legal, financial and administrative matters of the deceased's Estate.
Key points about a surviving family designation include:
Beneficiary Designations: Surviving family members are typically designated as Beneficiaries in a deceased person's Will, Trust, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and other financial instruments. These designations determine who is legally eligible to receive the deceased's Assets.
Probate Process: Probate is the legal process through which a deceased person's estate is settled and their assets are distributed to beneficiaries. Surviving family members participate in the probate process in order to receive these assets. This occurs if they are named as Heirs in the deceased's will, but if no will exists, they may still have the legal right to inherit assets according to state probate laws (known as laws of Intestacy).
Intestacy Laws: If the deceased did not have a valid will at the time of their death, then state probate laws (known as laws of intestacy) outline the order of who receives inheritance between surviving family members. For example, a surviving spouse and children typically have specific rights to inherit a portion of the estate before others.
Rights and Entitlements: Surviving family members may have the legal right to contest a will if they believe they have been unfairly excluded, or if they believe it was created under undue influence. They also have the right to be notified of any probate proceedings and that the estate is being Administered.
Challenges and Disputes: Inheritance disputes can arise among surviving family members if there are disagreements about the validity of a will, the interpretation of its terms, or how assets will be distributed. These disputes can sometimes lead to legal proceedings.
Spousal and Child Protections: Laws in many jurisdictions provide protections for surviving spouses and minor children to ensure that they receive a fair share of the estate, even if they are not explicitly mentioned in the will.