Consanguinity Updates and Intestate Estates


By: HeirSearch.

Approximately 60% of Americans die without a will, which means that many legal professionals who administer estates may eventually be required to probate an intestacy.

When a decedent dies intestate, we use degrees of consanguinity to determine their lawful heirs. The familial relations defined by consanguinity have been revised in many states as American family structures continue to evolve. Let’s explore some of the updates in consanguinity.

What is consanguinity?

First, it will be helpful to establish a clear definition of consanguinity. This term has scientific and social meanings, but in a legal context, consanguinity is used to establish kinship within a family tree. The original definition stipulates shared blood relations descending from a common ancestor—for example, grandparents, parents, children, and grandchildren. Family trees expand from this single lineage to include aunts, uncles, cousins, and more. And as social norms evolve, it is more common for family and blood relations to not overlap.

How is consanguinity used to establish heirship?

If a decedent dies intestate and has a spouse or issue (also known as Lineal Descendants), typically they become the rightful heirs. If there is no living spouse nor issue, the lawful heirs must be established according to consanguinity and the state’s laws of descent and distribution.

Consanguinity measures family and blood relations according to degrees of separation.

When there are no Lineal Descendants, Level 1 Heirs must be established, that is the decedent’s parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews.

Level 2 Heirs expand to grandparents, aunts and uncles, first cousins, etc.

Level 3 Heirs—usually the furthest degree of consanguinity away as is necessary to establish heirship—include great grandparents, grand aunts and uncles, first cousins once removed, second cousins, and so on.

When establishing heirship, each Level must be exhausted of living heirs before moving on to the next. For example, Level 1 heirs (such as siblings) are prioritized over Level 2 (such as cousins).

Consanguinity for the modern family

Historically, many state laws restricted consanguinity to blood relationships, omitting many family members from receiving an inheritance. These definitions have changed, though, in response to evolving social and familial norms.

For example, in Pennsylvania, “half-blood” relatives are treated identically to “full-blood” relatives; this eliminates any discrepancy, for instance, among individuals that are descendants of a second marriage.

Additionally, adopted children are now—in most states—considered to be consanguineous descendants of their adoptive parents, even though there is no blood relation.

Relatives by marriage are, however, still excluded from consanguinity. Only those who can trace their connection to a common ancestor, regardless of blood relation, are considered.

Forensic genealogy can help navigate consanguinity

HeirSearch has leveraged consanguinity since our inception to obtain accurate findings, thoroughly examine resources, and navigate evidence with a deep understanding of—and in strict accordance with—state-specific laws. Our forensic genealogists help our clients fulfill their fiduciary duty in court with detailed reports and factually backed documentation.

Do you need help establishing kinship to solve an estate matter?

At HeirSearch, we’ve seen it all. Since 1967, we have harnessed our forensic genealogy expertise to complete thousands of worldwide searches. We are proud to have achieved a success rate of 97% across our heir searches.

If you are a fiduciary professional needing to establish heirship to satisfy the court, HeirSearch can help. We offer no-cost, no-obligation consultations, even if you are not planning to start a search immediately.

Thanks for reading this month’s HeirSearch blog, and please reach out with any questions — we look forward to connecting!

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