lineal descendant

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Lineal descendants–also referred to as issue–are the direct descendants of a person, such as children, grandchildren, and so on. The term is most often used in the context of intestate succession, as courts prioritize a decedent’s spouse and lineal descendants when distributing an estate. Legally, states do not differentiate between biological and adopted children; both are considered lineal descendants. However, according to the Children’s Bureau, most states do not recognize biological children as lineal descendants for inheritance purposes if they have been adopted by unrelated adults, though there are some exceptions.

Lineal descendants differ from lineal ascendants, which are a person’s parents, grandparents, and so on. The law also recognizes collateral descendants– lineal descendants of a sibling of a lineal ascendant–such as a cousin, niece, nephew, aunt, or uncle.

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