If you die without a will, the state of Texas has thoughtfully written one for you. Not really, but the state imposes certain rules of inheritance in such cases. This is known as “dying intestate.” We call the laws governing the division in such instances “intestacy laws.” If you are a lawyer, it seems pretty straightforward. Joe dies, survived by his wife, Judy, and their three children. He has no children with anyone but Judy. Judy gets all of the community property. Joe also had some land and stocks he got from his parents. Judy gets one third of the stocks. The remaining two- thirds are split evenly among the three children. Judy gets a life estate in one third of the inherited land. The children get the rest of the inherited land.
Juan dies survived by his wife, Linda, their daughter, Sophia, and Juan’s daughter from an earlier marriage, Debbie. Because Juan had a child who was not also Linda’s child, Linda gets the one half of the community property she already owned. Juan’s one half is divided equally between Sophia and Debbie. Juan also had a collection of gold coins that were given to him as a gift, and a rental home that he owned before the marriage. Juan, Sophia and Debbie equally divide the coins. Sophia has a 1/3 interest in the rental home during her lifetime, and, at her death, it is equally divided between Sophia and Debbie.
Dolly has no children. She is survived by her husband, Al. Al inherits all of their community property, and all of Dolly’s separate, personal property. The house Dolly owned before their marriage goes one half to Al, and the other half is evenly divided between Dolly’s parents, or, if her parents are dead, the other half is divided among Dolly’s brothers and sisters. Orlando dies with no wife. His children evenly divide all his property. If he has no children, his parents inherit. If he has no parents, his siblings inherit. If he has no siblings, his nieces and nephews inherit. If he has no nieces and nephews, one half of his property goes to his father’s parents and their descendant’s, and the other half goes to his mother’s parents, and their descendants. And on it goes. If Orlando truly has no lineal ancestors leaving descendants, the state of Texas, ever helpful, steps in and collects. When this happens, we say the property escheated to the state. As you can imagine, this does not happen often. When it does happen, it is most often small bank accounts or a patial interest in land that is not very valuable. The more property people have, the more their relatives seem to keep track of them, and the more friends seem to be around to assist in trasporting them to a lawyers office to write a will.
If you are thinking that that sounded pretty simple, than, as you can imagine, I have not explained all the heirship possibilities. A surviving spouse is entitled to certain properties which will be the subject of a later blog. Also, critical is the fact that, without a will, you must have a court proceding to determine who the heirs, under the applicable statue, should be. This means an aditional action, called a proceeding to determine heirship, which I will also go into in a seperate entry. It also requires, in many circumstances, a dependent administration, which I will also go into in a separate entry.
In sum, if there is any property which will need to be legally transferred at your death, I can think of no circumstances where not having a will will not cause additional headaches and expenses to your heirs. And in many cases, it can result in your property being divided in a much different manner than you would have wanted. If only you had gotten around to telling everyone how to divide your property at your death. Perhaps by writing it down and signing it in front of two witnesses, and a notary, and with the guidance of an attorney. If you have questions regarding this, or another matter, please contact my office at 936-435-1908 or 281-723-2791 to schedule an appointment with an attorney. Visiting this blog does not create an attorney- client relationship. Information should not be considered legal advice.