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By Carey Thompson
Founding Attorney

In Texas, like elsewhere, intestacy laws dictate who inherits property when someone passes away without a will, often leading to outcomes that might not align with the deceased’s wishes. Understanding intestacy is important for anyone concerned with how their assets would be handled in their absence and wants to ensure their family’s future is secured according to their priorities rather than by the state’s laws.

Understanding Intestacy in Texas

In Texas, when an individual dies without a will, their estate enters into intestacy. This legal condition means that the state’s Estates Code becomes the default guide for how assets are divided among surviving relatives. The process aims to distribute the deceased’s property in a manner that reflects typical family priorities, with spouses, children, and other close relatives receiving assets first. However, without a will to indicate the deceased’s preferences, the exact distribution can vary significantly, depending on the family structure and the types of assets involved. For many, the rules of intestacy may seem complex, but they serve as a critical fallback to ensure that an estate is settled in an orderly fashion.

The Consequences of Dying Intestate

Dying intestate in Texas can lead to unexpected and often unwelcome consequences for a decedent’s family. Without a will to dictate the distribution of assets, state laws take over, potentially dividing an estate in ways that the deceased might not have intended. This can particularly impact mixed families, unmarried partners, or those with specific wishes for their assets and legacy. For example, a spouse may receive less than anticipated or distant relatives could inherit over closer, non-biological connections. Such outcomes can not only cause financial complications but also emotional distress and disputes among loved ones. Understanding the ramifications of intestacy underscores the importance of proactive estate planning to ensure your wishes are clearly communicated and legally protected.

How Assets Are Distributed Under Texas Law

Under Texas law, the distribution of assets in an intestate estate follows a specific hierarchy that considers the deceased’s family structure. If there’s a surviving spouse and children, the spouse inherits a portion of the estate, with the remainder divided among the children. In cases where there are no children, the spouse may inherit the entire estate or share it with the deceased’s parents or siblings, depending on other surviving relatives. Without a spouse or children, assets could pass to parents, siblings, or more distant relatives in a defined order. This systematic approach aims to mimic typical family dynamics, yet it may not reflect individual relationships or preferences and highlights the importance of having a will to direct the distribution of your assets according to your wishes.

The Role of Probate Court in Intestacy

The probate court plays a central role in intestacy cases, overseeing the distribution of the deceased’s assets according to state laws. Upon the filing of an Application by a close family member or someone who has an interest in the estate, the court appoints an administrator (usually the Applicant) to manage the estate’s settlement process. Their responsibilities include gathering assets, paying debts and taxes, and ensuring heirs receive their rightful shares. This judicial supervision ensures the estate is distributed fairly and legally, even in the absence of a will.

Why Having a Will Is Crucial

Having a will is crucial because it gives you control over the distribution of your assets after your passing, ensuring your wishes are honored. It allows you to designate guardians for minor children, make specific bequests to individuals or charities, and select an executor you trust to manage your estate. Without a will, your estate falls under intestacy laws, which might not align with your personal preferences, potentially leading to unintended beneficiaries and family disputes. A will also simplifies the probate process, reducing the time and expense involved in settling your estate.

Contact the Law Office of Carey Thompson

The Law Office of Carey Thompson offers comprehensive estate planning and probate services tailored to your unique needs. Our team is dedicated to ensuring your estate is managed and distributed according to your wishes. Reach out to us for personalized guidance and support in securing your legacy and protecting your loved ones.

About the Author
Carey Thompson has been practicing Social Security Disability Law Since 2008 after he graduated from Texas Wesleyan School of Law, now known as Texas A&M school of Law in Fort Worth, TX.  While at Texas Wesleyan he served on Law Review.  Prior to going to Law School, Mr. Thompson was a High School Band Director for four years using his degree in Music Education from Michigan State University.  Prior to Attending Michigan State, he attended Aledo Schools from Kindergarten to graduate.  Mr.Thompson feels strongly about serving the people of Tarrant County.