Heirs Law & Legal Definition


In a strict sense, heirs are those people who would inherit the estate of a deceased person by statutory law if the deceased died without a will. When a person dies without a will, the heirs to their estate are determined under the rules of descent and distribution. The term heirs-at-law is used to refer to those who would inherit under the state statute of descent and distribution if the decedent dies intestate (without a will), and they may or may not be beneficiaries under a will. A lineal heir is someone who inherits in a line that ascends or descends from a common ancestor. A collateral heir is someone who is not in the direct ancestral line of the deceased, such as an aunt, sister, or cousin. In common usage, heirs refers to anyone who inherits property of a decedent, whether by will, deed, statute, or otherwise.