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What is Intestate Succession? How Can a Forensic Genealogist Help?

Closeup of a hand signing a last will by a pen.

Ideally, before a person passes away, they have the time and opportunity to get all of their affairs in order. They will execute a will, trust, or other means of ensuring their entire estate is distributed to their heirs in accordance with their wishes. Unfortunately, not everyone is afforded the opportunity to get all of their ducks in a row before their passing. When someone dies without a will, what happens? What is the function of a forensic genealogist in that situation? Continue reading for a discussion of intestate succession, and call a professional forensic genealogist for experienced and effective assistance identifying the proper heirs to an estate.

How Does Intestate Succession Work?

Intestate succession refers to the process of administering an estate when a person passes away without a valid will or trust or when there are assets in the estate that are not covered by existing estate planning documents. When a person dies intestate (without a will), their assets pass to their heirs in accordance with the intestacy laws of the state that governs the estate. Each state has its own intestacy laws, although they generally follow similar patterns.

Typically, the estate will first be split between a surviving spouse and any surviving children of the decedent. If there is no spouse, the estate goes to the children, and if there are no children, then the estate in its entirety goes to the spouse. Grandchildren may inherit their parent’s share. After that, the estate will pass to other heirs in the line of succession as determined by the state. Parents and siblings of the decedent typically are next in line, followed by grandparents, cousins, and other relatives.

How the surviving relatives split the estate is determined by state law. Many states use a “per stirpes” approach, for example, which states that surviving issue to an heir are collectively entitled to the share of their parent. If a person dies with no spouse, one living child, one predeceased child, and two grandchildren (the children of the decedent’s child who has already passed away), then half of the estate would go to the surviving child of the decedent and the grandchildren would split the half that would have gone to their parent–meaning they each take ¼. Different states may apportion the estate differently depending on the circumstances.

How a Forensic Genealogist Can Help

A forensic genealogist can track down missing heirs to an estate and provide testimony concerning the validity of a claim raised by a putative heir. In the case of a person who dies intestate, a forensic genealogist can be employed to produce an accurate family tree of the deceased in order to identify all of the living and deceased relatives of the decedent for multiple generations. With this information, the administrator of the estate can contact living heirs and map out an appropriate plan for distribution of the estate in accordance with the state’s intestacy laws. The proper heirs can be notified of their share and their legal rights. If an heir or putative heir challenges the administration of the estate in probate court, the forensic genealogist can be called upon to testify about the correct lineage of the deceased so the court can make a fully-informed decision about appropriate distribution of the estate.

If you’re an estate administrator in need of qualified assistance identifying and locating missing heirs to an estate and for determination of heirship proceedings, or heir research services in order to satisfy due diligence requirements, contact the effective and detail-oriented forensic genealogists at Von Langen, LLC at 800-525-7722.

We invite you to contact our office for a consultation regarding your needs for locating missing heirs and beneficiaries in an estate administration, distributing unclaimed assets, or other legal matter. You can call our office toll-free at 800-525-7722, or, if you prefer, fill out the brief form below, and we will be in touch with you to schedule a consultation.

By submitting this form I acknowledge that form submissions via this website do not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information I send is not protected by attorney-client privilege.

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