Legalese — First Cousins Twice Removed

When someone says, “This is my third cousin twice removed,” what exactly do they mean by that?  And why am I writing about that in a legal column?

The answer to the second question is because the precise naming of relations matters only in determining royal lineage in an heir-to-the-throne kind of way, and in probate law.  The answer to the first question is a little more complicated.

Everyone gets that you are you, your parents are your parents, your parents’ parents are your grandparents, your grandparents’ parents are your great-grandparents, etc.  Likewise, your children’s children are your grandchildren, your grandchildren’s children are your great-grandchildren, and so on.  That straight line is fairly simple.  Your mother’s brother is your uncle.  Your mother’s brother’s children are your first cousins.  But what about your first cousins’ children?  Are they your second cousins?  No.  They are your first cousins once removed.  They are your children’s second cousins.  Let me explain:

It’s easier to do with a picture.



As you can see from the picture, the numbers designating which type of cousin they are  – first, second, third – go in the columns.  They are in the same generation as you.  The same generation doesn’t mean the same age as you, especially nowadays when people have children at all different ages.  For example, you may have an uncle that is older than you if your grandfather had a child from a second wife after you were born.  The ‘removed’ designation is how many generations removed (or lines down on the chart) a person is from you.  Your nephew is, basically, your brother once removed, if that helps explain it.

So why does that matter for probate law?  It doesn’t usually, but it does if someone dies without a will and their close family members have either predeceased them and/or didn’t exist at all.  If someone dies without a will at the age of, say, 93 and never married (or his wife died first) and never had any children, didn’t have siblings and his parents (obviously) predeceased him, you’d need a chart like this to figure out who the next level of similarly situated relatives were as his legal heirs.  You count the number of steps it takes to get to the next relative you can find, and everyone that is that many steps away has to be found and named.  If the deceased person’s parents were each only children themselves, you might end up going pretty far out.  Sometimes this is difficult to find out, especially if the person didn’t have contact with his blood relatives – the family he married into didn’t count.

This can be very confusing, and there are better-drawn charts (with more technical language) you can find on the internet if you are interested. They are generally called Tables of Consanguinity, consanguinity being a fancy word for “shared blood” or, as we say here in the south, “how much kin y’all are.”  Lawyers can complicate anything and everything.  Duh.

Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice.  It is being offered for informational purposes only.

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