collateral descendant

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A collateral descendant, also referred to as a collateral heir or collateral kin, descends from the same common ancestor as the decedent, but does not descend directly from the decedent. For example, siblings, cousins, nephews, nieces, aunts, and uncles are collateral descendants, while children and grandchildren are direct descendants.

In most cases involving intestacy, collateral descendants inherit property only if the decedent does not have any living direct descendants, such as children or parents. Some states narrowly limit intestate succession to only those collateral descendants within five degrees of kinship to the decedent. For example, North Carolina prohibits inheritance if a collateral heir is more than five generations removed from the decedent. Under this restriction, persons who are not descended from the deceased’s parents or grandparents are precluded from inheriting any property. By contrast, other states permit inheritance by remote collateral descendants in order to avoid escheat to the state.

[Last updated in August of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]