To sum up: in German law, there are Erben whether a person made a will or not. (Gesetzliche Erbfolge – gewillkürte Erbfolge) So sometimes the term gesetzlicher Erbe needs to be translated. What do you do, when it really matters?
Strictly speaking, statutory heir or heir on intestacy is almost too much of a good thing, since in common-law systems the word heir implies that there was no will.
I had to translate this and asked a number of other legal translators which they liked. The most popular answer was ‘I don’t know much about inheritance law’.
I wanted to use the term intestacy, but I’m told statutory heir is normal usage in the USA. I did eventually get a lot of information from one US legal translator, who shall be nameless unless he would prefer to be outed. He suggested Google searches on
“statutory heirs” “uniform probate code”
Other ways of getting US sites are site:edu and site:us
I have to repeat that the word heirs is not used in English law at all. Hence comparing results for heirs on intestacy might be misleading. I also reject the suggestion of intestate heir, because it sounds to me as if the heir has neglected to make a will, which may or may not be true. But this term too is encountered on US sites. Heir on intestacy is comprehensible in the US, but sounds a bit odd, according to my informant (but I regard it as an advantage if a translation relating to German law sounds a bit un-American – I wouldn’t want people to think it referred to American law).
Finally, I looked at Tony Weir’s translation in German Private and Commercial Law. An Introduction, by Horn, Kötz and Leser – 1982 but still the best. It has a heading Statutory Intestate Succession! Michael Jewell’s translation of Gerhard Robbers, An Introduction to German Law, refers to beneficiaries on intestacy, and when it comes to distinguishing Erbe and Vermächtnisnehmer, it has residuary beneficiary and specific beneficiary.