Part Four – What Happens to Property If Someone Dies Without a Will?
In three previous articles, we covered some steps in handling the estate of a person who died without a valid will in Texas. We also explained some provisions for the surviving spouse and general rules for distinguishing community property from separate property. After all claims against the estate are settled, the estate must be distributed. In this article, we'll discuss how Texas laws of intestacy direct property to be distributed when there is no valid will and no surviving spouse.
What if there is no surviving spouse?
When there is no surviving spouse, but there are direct descendants of the deceased (children, grandchildren, etc.), all of the personal property and real property passes to the direct descendants.
When there is no surviving spouse or direct descendants, but the deceased person's parents are living, the estate passes in equal shares to the mother and father.
If only one parent of the deceased is living, and the deceased person had siblings, the distributable property is divided in half. One-half passes to the surviving parent and the other half is divided among the deceased person's siblings or their descendants. If there are no siblings or descendants of siblings, then all of the property goes to the surviving parent.
What if there are no surviving direct descendants or parents?
When there are no parents, spouse, or direct descendants, but there are siblings of the decedent (or their descendants), the estate should be divided equally among the surviving siblings or their descendants.
When can very distant relatives inherit?
Think of the family tree as a flow chart starting with the deceased's grandparents or even great-grandparents. If there are no direct descendants of the deceased person, and no surviving relatives who are direct descendants of the deceased person's parents, the next step for finding heirs to inherit the estate is to move up the flow chart to the grandparents or great-grandparents of the deceased. If the grandparents are living, which is not common, the estate generally passes to them.
More commonly, there are surviving descendants of the grandparents or great-grandparents, in which case the distributable estate passes to them according to their degree of blood relation to the deceased person. In this scenario, distant cousins may receive a windfall from a relative they never met before, simply because the deceased person did not leave a valid will.
What happens if no relatives can be found?
On rare occasions, when no relatives can be located, however remote, the estate passes to the State of Texas.
Be sure to leave a valid will
The only way to be certain your estate will be distributed to your intended heirs is to leave a valid will, especially if you would prefer to your property go your favorite charity or your alma mater, rather than pass to a distant relative. Put your wishes on paper and make an appointment with one of our experienced Bryan, Texas estate planning lawyers by calling 979-703-7014 or 936-337-4681, or visit us online to request a meeting.