Sponsored By GenealogyBank

09 April 2012

Heirs Versus Descendants

There is a difference between being someone's heir and being their descendant. A descendant "descends" from the person--is their child, grandchild, great-grandchild, etc.

An heir is someone who (usually according to state statute) is entitled to a share in a deceased person's estate. If the deceased person had living children, they are usually heirs. The children of a deceased child would also be heirs.If the deceased had no children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc. (and left no surviving spouse) then their heirs could be their siblings, or their first cousins, depending upon the family structure.

And of course, the definition of heir is dependent on statute--so check that out for the time period of interest as well.


  1. Very helpful to be reminded of this. I have a 3rd great grandfather who was an "heir at law" to his unmarried deceased brother. Looking up the laws of the state at the time of the probate will helped to determine the relationship to the deceased. Laws changed (and still change) so it's important to find what the law was at the time of the probate.

  2. The phrase "heir-at-law" makes an excellent point, Caroleen. The phrase "at-law" should usually get people thinking that they were an heir because of "the law." And who was an heir-at-law in 1800 might not have been one in 1920.

  3. My father's father opted not to include my brothers and I in his will. He named my mother (as my father's widow)then the attorney claimed there were no funds to pay her from the estate. It hurt at the time to feel "disowned", I loved my grandfather dearly, but it was his choice and the "last word" is mine... he did not know his own heritage... I do and am sharing with anyone who wants to know... I may not have been his heir, I may have been hurt as his decendant, but he could not take away my heritage.