The purpose of an heirship proceeding is straightforward. The Court sees and hears evidence before ultimately entering a judgment that identifies a decedent’s heirs and assigns the interests that those heirs own in the decedent’s estate. In many ways, the result is something close to a family tree that comes with the binding force of law.
Most heirships are uncontested. Rarely are there disputes about the marital and family history of the decedent. But many heirship cases involve conflicts on a number of levels. A common law spouse, for example, might meet strong opposition by a decedent’s children when he or she tries to obtain a judgment that confirms an informal marriage. Likewise, children neither born nor formally adopted by the decedent might pursue a judgment that establishes their informal adoption by the decedent. In some cases, there may be no conflict, but there also may not be sufficient evidence that can support a final judgment.
Typically, heirship judgments involve the testimony of at least two people that were familiar with the decedent’s marital and family history. Ideally, these witnesses don’t have any financial interest in the estate. Unfortunately, not everyone dies leaving two good witnesses behind. When these witnesses simply are not available, the Court must see and hear other evidence to be able to reach a result.
Official documents are often used. Birth records, marriage records and even obituaries or programs from a funeral could be offered as proof. In some cases, the Court can even order the parties to an heirship to submit to DNA testing. In the end, virtually everyone has heirs. Whether or not those heirs are all identified to the Court is a major issue in every heirship.