Identifying And Confirming Heirs In Court
Any time that someone dies leaving assets but failing to leave a Will, the law provides a mechanism for determining who the proper recipients of his or her assets will be. Those recipients, known as the heirs, are generally determined through a formal court proceeding called a Determination of Heirship.
At the outset of an Heirship proceeding, a party submits information to the probate court alleging the identity of the deceased person’s heirs. In order to verify that the information is correct, the Court appoints an independent attorney, known as an attorney ad litem, to conduct a brief investigation as to the heirs. When that attorney ad litem has confirmed the identity of the heirs, then the parties all go to court and provide evidence of the heirship. This evidence usually involves the testimony of two witnesses who do not stand to inherit from the estate but who knew the deceased person’s family history and can testify as to the identity of the heirs.
The Determination of Heirship proceeding is usually the second step involved in a case where someone dies without a Will. As discussed elsewhere, the Court will appoint an administrator to wind up the affairs of the estate, but the Determination of Heirship is conducted to identify the heirs who will receive the assets when the administrator is ready to distribute the remaining assets. In some cases, however, the parties may only need to request a Determination of Heirship and not need to ask for the appointment of an administrator. In either case, the Determination of Heirship is a complex proceeding that requires competent counsel for the parties.