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Who are my heirs if I die without a will?

This blog has frequently reminded Houston residents about the importance of creating an estate plan. This is certainly true if a Texan wants a say in how their wealth will be distributed.

When a person dies without a valid will, or if they have a will but it fails to dispose of all of their property, then the intestacy laws of Texas determine who the heirs are. Under these laws, as is the case in most states, a person’s surviving spouse gets special treatment.

What complicates matters in this respect, however, is that Texas is what is called a community property state. This means that the surviving spouse automatically keeps 50% of all property they acquired during the marriage, as well as any separate property which they own outright. Under Texas law, the surviving spouse gets all community property if the couple is childless or only has children with each other.

With regard to a deceased person’s separate property, a surviving spouse is entitled to receive one-third of the deceased’s personal property and what is called a life estate of one-third of the person’s land, assuming the deceased also had children.

Whether or not a person leaves behind a spouse when they die, other laws apply which specify who gets what property when a Texan dies without a will. Generally speaking, though, a person’s children, parents, and siblings have priority.

Because the laws are complicated, specific questions about how intestacy laws would work in a particular case are best directed to an experienced attorney.