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Friday, September 25, 2020

What Happens to My Estate if I Die Without Heirs?

What happens to your estate if you die without heirs in Texas will depend on whether you had estate planning documents or not. If you had a will or living trust agreement, your money and assets would get distributed according to the terms of those papers. If you did not have a will or living trust, you are intestate, and our state’s intestacy laws will determine who gets your estate.

Although it is rare, it is possible for the state of Texas to get everything that you left behind through intestacy. A Texas estate planning attorney can help you make sure that does not happen.

You Might Have More Heirs Than You Think

Many people think of their heirs as immediate family members, such as spouse, children, grandchildren, siblings, and parents. In our state, the intestacy statutes reach much further.

Let's say that an unmarried person dies without a will or trust agreement in Texas. If he had no biological or adopted children, his property will pass to his parents, if both are still alive. If one parent predeceases him, that parent will get half of the assets, and the other half would get split up among your surviving siblings or their descendants.

If an unmarried person who never had any children had no living parents, siblings, or descendants of siblings when he died, the laws of intestacy will divide his estate in half. The relatives on the decedent’s father's side would get half of the estate, with the relatives on the decedent’s mother's side getting the other half.

When an entire side of the family has died out, the other side of the family will get 100 percent of the estate. The only way that the state of Texas will get the assets is if an unmarried person with no children dies and has no surviving heirs on either side of the family.

Assets That Do Not Go Through Intestacy or Your Will

Several types of property and accounts do not get distributed by a person's will or through intestate succession laws. These items automatically pass to the beneficiary you named or the surviving co-owner of the account:

  • The payout from your life insurance policy
  • Payable-on-death (POD) or transfer-on-death (TOD) bank accounts and investment accounts
  • Joint accounts
  • Retirement accounts, including 401(k), 403(b), and IRA
  • Property your living trust owns

If you designated your estate as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy and then left no will or living trust agreement when you died, the proceeds of that policy will get distributed through the intestate succession laws.

How to Avoid Intestacy

If the state has to spend a lot of money trying to track down your heirs, there might be little money left to distribute if they do find a legal beneficiary. Usually, it costs more in court fees and expenses for property to get distributed through intestacy than if a person had a will or trust agreement.

In the worst-case scenario, everything that you spent a lifetime building up would become the property of the state of Texas through a process called escheat, if you had absolutely no heirs. Even if you are the last surviving member of both sides of your family, you can probably think of at least one worthy cause to whom you would want to donate your assets after you pass.

A Texas estate planning attorney can talk with you about your wishes and draft the documents to make sure that your property does not go into intestacy or escheat to the state.


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