If you have no spouse or children, you may wonder what will happen to your property if you die without a will in Texas. Will the state just take your money?
What Does it Mean to Die Without Heirs?
“Dying without heirs” is usually said when someone dies with no close relatives. But, under Texas law, even more distant relatives can inherit, if necessary. People often believe that if they die without a will and don’t have close relatives, the State of Texas will swoop in to get their assets. This is not true.
How is Property Distributed When Someone Dies Without a Will?
The Texas law gives specific instructions as to how property is inherited when someone dies without a will. Below, you will see a list of facts that will be relevant. Items numbers one through 4 on the list show the “typical” situation when someone dies without a will, but has close relatives. Items numbers five and six relate to a case where there are no spouse or children.
The distribution of property can be quite detailed and complicated and so the results of each situation are not listed here, but here are the facts to be considered that will affect who is able to inherit the assets:
- Whether the person has a spouse when he/she dies.
- Whether the person has children with that spouse.
- Whether the person has children from a prior relationship or any “unknown heirs”.
- Whether the property the deceased person owned is “community” (from existing marital estate- the person was married when they died); or “separate” property (belonged solely to the deceased person under Texas law).
- If there is no spouse and no children, then during the probate process there will be a search for other relatives, such as parents or siblings of the deceased. Then, if there are none living, a search for nieces, nephews, grandparents, aunts/uncles, cousins, and so on. This goes on until a living relative is found.
- Just because someone exists, and can be found, doesn’t mean that is easy or inexpensive to do so. In fact, estate administration can be very time-consuming and expensive, and can use up all of the assets of the estate in fees, expenses, and court costs!
How Does the Court Get Involved?
Someone has to initiate the probate case. For instance, a relative or friend of the deceased, or a creditor will generally file with the probate court to get the process rolling. Sometimes, in the case of abandoned real property, the city or county will file an action for back property taxes which will eventually lead to discovery of heirs and the filing of a probate case.
What About “Unclaimed Property”?
Bank accounts, utility refunds, tax refunds other “unclaimed” assets may be placed into the Unclaimed Property fund of the state of Texas. This fund is searchable. Therefore, if an heir later finds out that they are entitled to the property, they can go through the procedure to get that property released to them. But, keep in mind, most assets do not get placed here, and there could be real estate, belongings and other financial accounts that do not show up here.
How to Prevent the Estate From Draining Away into Costs and Fees
Every adult person should have a will. This prevents problems passing assets and prevents spending money on costs such as tracing heirs and publishing legal notices. Even someone who has a spouse and/or children needs a will. But, it is essential for a person whose heirs are not easily identifiable.
Are you without close relatives? Then you should decide how you want your estate distributed, rather than leaving the decision to a court. Don’t care one way or the other? Consider leaving your property to a worthy cause. Or, you can leave your property to someone you trust to make good use of it.
How to Decide if it is “Worth it”
Do you have a small estate and no close relatives? Want to decide if it is worth it to set up an estate plan or trust? Or, maybe you are the relative of someone who has passed away without a will. Maybe you don’t know if it make financial sense to file a probate. You can ask for a legal consultation to decide the best course of action.
We have over 35 years of experience in Texas estate planning and probate cases. We can serve you in English and in Spanish. We can give you a realistic picture of what is advisable and practical.