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descent

n. the rules of inheritance established by law in cases in which there is no will naming the persons to receive the possessions of a person who has died. The rules of descent vary somewhat from state to state and will usually be governed by the law of the state in which the deceased party lived. Depending on which relatives survive, the estate may go all or in part to the surviving spouse, and down the line from a parent to children (or if none survive, to grandchildren), or up to surviving parents, or collaterally to brothers and sisters. If there are no survivors among those relatives, then aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews may inherit, depending on their degree of kinship (closeness of family relationship), state laws of descent and distribution, or whether the deceased person lived in a community property state, in which the wife has a survivorship right to community property.

See also: community property  degree of kinship  descent and distribution  inheritance  intestate succession 

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The People's Law Dictionary by Gerald and Kathleen Hill Publisher Fine Communications