Most Texans die without leaving a valid will that instructs the probate court how to distribute their assets. In such cases, the decedent’s property must be distributed according to rules that have been adopted in the state’s statutes. These rules are known as the rules of intestate succession, and anyone who dies without a will is said to have died intestate.
The rules of intestate succession are designed to cover all possible combinations of a person who dies while married or unmarried, with or without surviving siblings and with or without surviving children or grandchildren. The person who is appointed as the estate administrator must distribute the decedent’s assets according to these rules. A short description of the various property is distributed from an estate without a will demonstrates the potential complexity of the rules.
If a person survives his or her parent but dies while unmarried, the person’s assets are distributed in equal shares to the decedent’s surviving children. If the person died leaving both living children and grandchildren, the assets are divided in equal shares among the surviving children. If one or more children has predeceased the decedent, that person’s share will be divided equally among his or her surviving children. If the decedent is survived by both parents, the parents will receive equal shares of the estate regardless of whether the decedent is survived by siblings. If the decedent is survived by one parent and at least one sibling, the parent will receive one-half of the estate, and the remainder will be divided among surviving siblings and the children of deceased siblings. If a person dies leaving no surviving heir, all of the property in the estate will be transferred (“escheat” is the legal term) to the state of Texas. Other rules cover distribution to surviving grandchildren, children of siblings and the numerous other situations that can arise in an intestate estate.
Even a person who neglects to make a will may have strong ideas about how his or her property should be distributed. With no will in place, the distribution of the property may absolutely conflict with the person’s intentions. Intestate distributions often result in disputes between family members about who gets what. A carefully drawn will is a powerful preventative against what can become intense intra-family conflicts.