Descendants Law & Legal Definition


Descendants are those who are the issue of an individual, such as children, grandchildren, and their children, to the remotest degree. Descendants are those in a descending line of birth from an individual, rather than an ascending line, such as to the parents of the individual. Determining who a person's descendants are is commonly necessary to determine who is entitled to share in the estate of a person who dies without a will. State statutes of descent and distribution, which vary by state, provide for the surviving spouse and/or descendants to share in the estate of the deceased. Parents of the deceased often do not share in the estate unless there are no surviving descendants or spouse.

A lineal descendant is a direct descendant of a person. A person in direct line of blood relationship following downwards from an individual concerned, starting from his children, grand children and great grand children, are called lineal descendants of an individual.

The following is an example of a state law governing intestate succession:


  • Spouse takes the entire share if there are no surviving descendants or parent. "Descendant" means, in relationship to an individual, all of his or her descendants of all generations, with the relationship of parent and child at each generation being determined by the definitions of child and parent contained in EPIC.
  • Spouse takes the first $150,000 plus 3/4 of the balance, if there are no surviving descendants, but there is a surviving parent.
  • Spouse takes the first $150,000, plus 1/2 of the balance, if any of the decedent's descendants are also descendants of the spouse.
  • Spouse takes the first $100,000, plus 1/2 of the balance, if none of the decedent's surviving descendants are descendants of the spouse.

Any part of the intestate estate that does not pass to the decedent's surviving spouse, or the entire intestate estate if there is no surviving spouse, passes in the following order to the following individuals who survive the decedent:

  • The decedent's descendants by representation.
  • If there is no surviving descendant, the decedent's parents equally if both survive or to the surviving parent.
  • If there is no surviving descendant or parent, the descendants of the decedent's parents or of either of them by representation.
  • If there is no surviving descendant, parent, or descendant of a parent, but the decedent is survived by 1 or more grandparents or descendants of grandparents, 1/2 of the estate passes to the decedent's paternal grandparents equally if both survive, or to the surviving paternal grandparent, or to the descendants of the decedent's paternal grandparents or either of them if both are deceased, the descendants taking by representation; and the other 1/2 passes to the decedent's maternal relatives in the same manner. If there is no surviving grandparent or descendant of a grandparent on either the paternal or the maternal side, the entire estate passes to the decedent's relatives on the other side in the same matter as the 1/2.
  • If there is no taker under the above provisions, the intestate estate passes to the state."