If you die without leaving behind a valid will, your family typically inherits your property. Which family member receives property, and how much they receive, depends upon your state’s laws, but typically only your closest family members inherit. This includes your spouse and any children or grandchildren you have.
However, if you don’t have a spouse or children, your other relatives may inherit your property as well. These relatives are known as your “ascendants,” and are categorized into two groups: your ancestors and your collateral relatives.
Ancestors: An ancestor is a progenitor, a relative from whom you descend. Therefore, your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc., are all ancestors, but your uncles, great-aunts, siblings and other family members are not.
Collateral Relatives: Those family members from whom you do not directly descend, yet with whom you share your ancestors are collateral relatives. Also known as collateral kindred, or sometimes just as collaterals, this group includes your siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, etc.
Hierarchy: Every state has a system of laws known as laws of intestacy or intestate succession. These laws usually differentiate your inheritors based on their relationship to you and typically give preference to the closest ancestor, not the closest collateral relative. For example, if you die and leave behind parents and siblings, it is your parents who will inherit, not your siblings. However, more distant ancestors may lose out to closer collateral relatives. For example, if you leave behind only grandparents and siblings, your siblings typically stand to inherit, rather than your grandparents.
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