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Philadelphia Wills & Estates Attorneys Define a Lineal Heir

Anthony J. Caiazzo April 4, 2022

When probating an estate, Philadelphia wills & estates attorneys can explain that it is important to identify all heirs. An heir is a person at law who stands to receive something of value, such as an inheritance. However, lineal heirs has a much more narrow definition.


English law commonly used the phrase “heirs of the body” to denote the degree of kinship between a person and his or her descendants. This phrase was often used when passing title or a crown to certain descendants. The phrase means that the descendant was born of the body of the property’s original owner, such as someone’s mother or father. Lineal heir refers to the line between the generations, so it can regard a parent or a child in a direct line of ancestry. It can also refer to degrees above and below the direct parentage line, such as grandchildren, grandparents, great-grandchildren, and great-grandparents. Commonly, the phrase only concerned people in the direct bloodline.

Other Types of Heirs

Legally, other people may be referred to as “heirs” who are not lineal heirs. For example, many states allow for a person’s next of kin to inherit funds when the decedent dies without a will. A person’s next of kin is the closest blood relative to the deceased. This can mean that the next of kin is not someone in the same ascent or descent, such as an aunt or cousin. It can also be someone such as a spouse who is not blood-related to the decedent at all. This difference is important to note. Typically, laws of intestacy provide for only lineal heirs to inherit the real property owned by the deceased at the time of death. However, next of kin are often able to take possession of the personal property owned by the decedent. They may have to file a claim with the probate court against the estate in order to effectuate this right.

Specific Definition in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania and other jurisdictions take the definition of a lineal heir one step further. The definition includes children that may not have the same bloodline, such as adopted children and stepchildren. Furthermore, biological children can still be heirs to their original bloodline even if others have adopted them.

Avoiding Issues with Heirs

Although all heirs must be notified at the time of someone’s death and may make a claim against the estate, many individuals can avoid issues with determining heirs by establishing a will or trust. Generally, lineal heirs only stand to inherit if the individual dies without a will and the laws of intestacy must be followed. If a person has a will and the court finds it to be valid, the will is followed instead of the state default rules. A trust makes it so that a person may not own any property at the time of death, potentially limiting any reason to file a probate case.

Legal Assistance from Philadelphia Wills & Estates Attorneys

If you would like to know more about this topic or how lineal heirs may affect your estate plan, Philadelphia wills & estates attorneys from Caiazzo Law can help. Call us today to schedule a confidential consultation.