What Happens if Someone Dies Without a Will in Texas?

A last will and testament, or more commonly referred to as a “will,” is a legal document that provides a person with the opportunity to decide how their property and other assets will be distributed after their death. Under Texas law, if a person does not have a will, their belongings will be subject to Texas intestacy laws, which may be contrary to the person’s actual wishes. A legally binding will is an effective way to ensure that a person’s last wishes are appropriately effectuated. Fortunately, Houston probate courts typically work efficiently to ensure that wills are quickly validated and accomplished.

In some cases, a simple will is enough to distribute assets and belongings, but Texas allows wills to include trust directives and tax-planning assistance. Wills can also include the appointment of guardians to children and pets, asset distribution, and help people avoid real-estate complications. In cases where a person does not create a legally binding will, Texas law dictates that their assets and possessions pass through intestate succession laws.

Under Texas’ intestacy law, intestate succession depends on the deceased’s surviving family members. These are the most common scenarios:

  1. Surviving children but no spouse: the entire inheritance goes to the children.
  2. Surviving spouse but no children, parents, or siblings: the inheritance goes to the spouse.
  3. Surviving parents, but no children, spouse, or siblings: the inheritance goes to their parents.
  4. Surviving siblings but no children, spouse, or parents: the inheritance goes to their siblings.
  5. If there is a surviving spouse as well as children of the deceased’s spouse, then the spouse inherits all of the deceased’s community property, plus one-third of their personal property and the right to use any real estate for life. The children inherit everything else.

The court does not evaluate the strength or history of a relationship when going through these proceedings. Intestate succession only applies to assets that may have passed through the deceased person’s will. Many valuable assets do not go through a person’s will and will generally pass to a surviving beneficiary the deceased person previously named.

Intestate proceedings can result in significant delays and challenges for surviving family members. One issue is that in many cases, a court proceeding needs to take place to determine a deceased individual’s heirs. These proceedings can take many months, especially in instances where there is difficulty identifying and locating heirs and resolving disputes. In some cases, these proceedings can deplete the estate’s value. Additionally, many other nuanced rules can impact the distribution of assets.

Do You Need Assistance Creating a Will or other Estate Planning Documents?

If you or a family member needs assistance creating an estate plan, contact the Houston elder law attorneys at McCulloch & Miller, PLLC. Our attorneys have a rich tradition of providing Texans with estate planning assistance. We have over 35 years of experience handling various estate planning and elder law issues, such as creating wills and trusts, and handling probate matters. Contact our office at 713-333-8900 to schedule an initial consultation with a Houston estate planning attorney at our law firm.

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