Heard these terms? Wondered what they meant? Thought they were synonymous, one with the other. Here’s the lexicon:
Heirs are your relatives. Everyone has them! The law provides for them when someone dies without a will (intestate). The distribution goes as follows: To the spouse; then to the children; then to the parents; then to the siblings; then to the aunts and uncles; then to the cousins. These rules apply if, when you die, you are married and don’t have any children from another relationship. If you do have a spouse and children from another relationship, 50% of your distributable assets go to your spouse, and 50% to your children from the other relationship. (These situations can get complicated, and distributable assets do not include, necessarily, everything you owned when you died. If you face one of these situations, see an attorney who practices in the area of probate and estates/trusts law.)*
Devisees are the people to whom you leave your property in a will. They can be—or not be—relatives. Anyone can receive a devise under a will; however, if your will provides for a devise to your spouse, and you get divorced (and don’t get around to changing your will), your ex gets nothing. Likewise, if one of your devisees kills you, he or she gets nothing.
Beneficiaries are people who receive property through your trust. Distributions may come before or after you die, per the terms of your trust. Trusts provide flexibility regarding distributions. For example, you can distribute an income interest, as opposed to principal and interest. You can condition a distribution on an event or circumstance, like achieving a certain age, having a child, finishing school, etc. Same rules apply regarding former spouses and killers.
*As an aside does the cousins thing—the rank and removed part—confuse you? It’s really simple. Rank is at the same generational level, while removed is not. Thus, my daughter’s first cousins are my sisters’ children. (Same generation.) When one of my nephews has a child, the child will be my daughter’s first cousin, once removed. If my daughter has a child, the child will be my nephew’s first cousin, once removed, and the two babies will be second cousins. (My daughter and her cousin share grandparents; their children-to-be share great-grandparents, and the removed number is the generational difference.)