A person who dies without leaving a validly drafted Will is an intestate. An intestate is subject to his or her state’s intestacy laws. In Texas, when a person dies without a Will, a court must identify the decedent’s heirs. Once a court identifies an intestate’s heirs, it will determine each heir’s respective shares according to the Texas intestacy statutes.
Although the judicial declaration of heirship is most common in intestacy cases, Texas courts may use the process when a person created a valid will before dying but didn’t completely dispose of his or her entire estate. In this case, if a testator’s will failed to completely dispose of the decedent’s, a court will attempt to identify missing heirs in an effort to dispose of any remaining estate assets. For example, if the decedent left his real estate to his uncle, but did not address who receives the bank accounts, the bank accounts will pass under the laws of intestacy.
With a judicial declaration of heirship, a court will appoint an attorney to represent missing or unidentified heirs. The attorney ad litem must appear at a formal hearing to provide his or her report of possible heirs. The court will also require two impartial witnesses to appear at an heirship hearing to provide evidence or testimony regarding the decedent’s lineage and marital history. The entire process must comply with the Texas Probate Code. Because of the expenses and time involved in a judicial declaration of heirship, it is important to make sure you contact a probate law attorney to help you dispose of your entire estate. Your attorney can draft a valid Will in an effort to avoid this procedure.
If you have questions about estate planning issues, then please call for an initial one-hour consultation, which is at no-charge. We at the Mendel Law Firm can help you uncover your options and choose the strategy that is best for you.