Last updated: July 26. 2014 11:01PM - 767 Views
By Lee R. Schroeder Contributing Columnist

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One of my favorite jokes is embodied in the following question: If two University of Michigan fans got divorced, would they still be brother and sister?

Of course, people ask this same question regarding Ohio State fans or people from whatever group or geography that somebody wants to tease, in good nature, of course.

It is usually difficult for most of us to describe how we are related to anyone more distant than first cousins. The definition and categorization of identifying how closely two people are related is called “consanguinity.” Consanguinity governs many aspects of our lives and dictates legal decisions that can affect us, even if we do not realize it.

For a person who dies without a will in Ohio, consanguinity may help to determine who has rights to the decedent’s property. Determining consanguinity is commonly known as finding the next of kin.

For some people whose wills only identify beneficiaries who die before the wills’ makers die, consanguinity can also be crucial in identifying the person or people who can inherit. Finding such a person in this situation can preclude the decedent’s property from simply being remitted to the State of Ohio (legally called an “escheat” of that property to the state).

Also, as we all know, Ohio law prohibits incest marriage. The closest pre-marriage relationship between a couple to be married is that of second cousins.

These situations beg questions of how closely we are actually related to each other. Determining consanguinity can be very complex. Detailed tables and charts have been created to assist in the process of determining consanguinity. Usually, the process of determining consanguinity begins with the literal creation of a graphical family tree (as you may have done in elementary school). From there, most attorneys typically consult a table of consanguinity.

However, there are some simple shortcuts for some close relationships.

Most of us know our first cousins, the first generation offspring of our parents’ siblings. From there, many definitions are based upon relationships presuming that certain family members were literally “removed from the family tree.” For example, my first cousin’s child is my “first cousin once removed.” In other words, first cousins once removed are first cousins, if one generation was “removed” from the family tree.

Similarly, my cousin’s grandchildren will be my first cousins twice removed. Otherwise stated, if two generations were removed from my cousin’s family tree, my cousin’s grandchildren would be my first cousins.

Second cousins, third cousins and so forth are on equal “generation lines” of a graphical family tree. The kids of first cousins are called “second cousins.” The grandkids of first cousins are called third cousins, and so forth.

First cousins once removed are more closely related than second cousins. Beyond that, tables of consanguinity determine who is more closely related to whom, literally based upon the quantity of shared ancestral genetic identity.

Most of us do not need to regularly determine consanguinity. However, consanguinity is objective and determinable, even though it can be very complex.

Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney with Schroeder, Blankemeyer and Schroeder LLP in Ottawa. He limits his practice to business, real estate,estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at lee.schroeder@sbslawoffice.com or at 419-523-5658. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.

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