Dissecting Division of Property

By Emily Anne Croom Premium

Q. Why would a couple be listed as heirs in division of property of a deceased person unless they were related in some way?

A. Key words here are couple, heirs and related. Was heir used in the document? Were other people named in the division besides the couple in question? Have you identified the others as relatives of the deceased? If not, research and identify each one. Other documents related to the case may help.

Without more information, we must generalize. Frequently, heirs were the spouse, children, parents or siblings of the deceased, depending on the circumstances.
If a child or sibling of the deceased had died, his or her children could have received and split that share of the estate. If a husband and wife were listed among heirs, usually the wife was the heir and her husband was receiving the inheritance “in right of” his wife since married women, for so long, were not legally able to inherit or own property in their own name. Thus, heirs named in a division were usually related by blood or by law (such as adoptees), but interpretation depends on the wording and other specifics of the case.

For example, was the division based on a will? What did the will provide? Did it name heirs and their relationship to the deceased? Did it name devisees or legatees? These were not always relatives because the testator (the one writing the will) could leave property to anyone of choice, related or not. Was this an intestate estate (one without a will)? What was the law of heirship at that time in the state where the deceased died? State law dictates who are legal heirs of an intestate estate if the deceased had no surviving spouse, children, parents or siblings. Heirs may then be descendants of parents’ or grandparents’ siblings—cousins of varying degrees.

Unlock the treasures in all the records you can find with our Ultimate Guide to Genealogy Records eBook!

Discover the best genealogy records using the tips and strategies in this guide, which shows you how to find and use census records, birth records, marriage records and more.