In my last post, we discussed what happens to a person’s estate when they die without a will. That post focused on the decedent being a married person at the time of death. This post will consider what happens to the estate of a single person.
The easiest situation to address is when the single person did not have any children. In that case, the state looks to parents, siblings or other relatives on either side of the family to find a qualifying heir. So, if parents survive, they inherit. The process continues until heirs living at the time of decedent’s death can be located.
If decedent died with children (or other descendants), they gain priority over the heirs listed above. If someone dies and leaves behind no surviving heir, the estate would go to the State of Texas.
If all a decedent’s heirs are of the same level of relationship (for example, all are cousins or all are grandchildren), they will divide the estate in equal shares. However, if the heirs have different levels of relationship (for example, if some of decedent’s children predecease, leaving children or grandchildren of their own), then the younger generations would be entitled to only the share the older generation would have received had they survived.
As you can tell by this description, the state has very specific laws defining who inherits in various circumstances. Even the foregoing description is fairly generalized. In some circumstances, the laws can be complex and not what one might expect.
For example, stepchildren are treated quite differently from adopted children. The decedent may have served as parent to a stepchild for many years and may have dearly loved the stepchild. However, without a will a stepchild is unlikely to inherit from the decedent’s estate.
The foregoing is not to say that it is always difficult to deal with the estates of people who die without a will. But generally, it is more complex than administering the estate of a person who has a will. The level of difficulty depends in large part on how large the family is, how easily family members can be identified and located, and how amenable all family members are to accept the distribution provided under the laws of Texas or to agree to a different distribution.
Bottom line – you are better off having a will to ensure your objectives are fulfilled. Regardless of how small you think your estate is, how simple your desired distribution, or how agreeable your heirs, you should speak with an estate planning attorney to get a professional review of your plans.