Definition of DESCENT in Black's Law Dictionary 4th Edition – Legal dictionary – Glossary of legal terms.

Definition of DESCENT

Hereditary succession. Succession to the ownership of an estate by inheritance, or by any act of law, as distinguished from "purchase." Title by descent is the title by which one person, upon the death of another, acquires the real estate of the latter as his heir at law. 2 Bl.Comm. 201; Adams v. Akerlund, 168 Ill. 632, 48 N.E. 454; In re Yahola's Heirship, 142 Okl. 79, 285 P. 946. The title by inheritance is in all cases called descent, although by statute law the title is sometimes made to ascend.

"Descent" in its broadest sense signifies an inheritance cast upon any one capable of receiving it, whether heir at common law or not. Kicey v. Kicey, 114 N.J.Eq. 116, 168 A. 424, 426.

The division among those legally entitled thereto of the real property of intestates.


Descents are of two sorts, lineal and collateral. Lineal descent is descent in a direct or right line, as from father or grandfather to son Dr grandson. In re Herrick's Estate, 273 N.Y.S. 803, 152 Misc. 9. Collateral descent is descent in a collateral or oblique line, that is, up to the common ancestor and then down from him, as from brother to brother, or between cousins. Levy v. McCartee, 6 Pet. 112, 8 L.Ed. 334. They are also distinguished into mediate and immediate descends. But these terms are used in different senses. A descent may be said to be a mediate or immediate descent of the estate or right; or it may be said to be mediate or immediate, in regard to the mediateness or immediateness of the pedigree or consanguinity. Thus, a descent from the grandfather, who dies in possession, to the grandchild, the father being then dead, or from the uncle to the nephew, the brother being dead, is, in the former sense, in law, immediate descent, although the one is collateral and the other lineal; for the heir is in the per, and not in the per and cut. On the other hand, with reference to the line of pedigree or consanguinity, a descent is often said to be immediate, when the ancestor from whom the party derives his blood is immediate, and without any intervening link or degrees; and mediate, when the kindred is derived from him mediante altero, another ancestor intervening between them. Thus, a descent in lineals from father to son is in this sense immediate; but a descent from grandfather to grandson, the father being dead, or from uncle to nephew, the brother being dead, is deemed mediate; the father and the brother being, in these latter cases, the medium deferens, as it is called, of the descent or consanguinity. Furenes v. Mickelson, 86 Iowa, 508, 53 N.W. 416.

Descent was denoted, in the Roman law, by the term "successio," which is also used by Bracton, from which has been derived the succession of the Scotch and French jurisprudence.

Line of Descent

The order or series of persons who have descended one from the other or all from a common ancestor, considered as placed in a line of succession in the order of their birth, the line showing the connection of all the blood-relatives.

Collateral line. A line of descent connecting persons who are not directly related to each other as ascendants or descendants, but whose relationship consists in common descent from the same ancestor.

Direct line. A line of descent traced through those persons only who are related to each other directly as ascendants or descendants. State ex rel. Walton v. Yturria, 109 Tex. 220, 204 S.W. 315, 316, L.R.A.1918F, 1079.

Maternal line. A line of descent or relationship between two persons which is traced through the mother of the younger.

Paternal line. A similar line of descent traced through the father.

For "Family," see that title.

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