What happens if someone dies without a will?

Though the importance of estate planning has been spelled out many times not only on this very blog space but through the media as well, with legal disputes arising over property in the case of celebrity deaths, many Texas residents still do not focus on the distribution of their assets after they pass away. Without a will in place, state laws, known as intestate laws, apply, and assets are given to surviving relatives according to a specified order.

According to intestate succession, who gets what depends on who survives the decedent. For example, if the decedent has a surviving spouse but no children, parents or siblings, then the spouse will inherit everything. Similarly, if the parents survive the decedent and he or she does not have any siblings or a spouse, then the parents will inherit everything. If there are siblings, but no children or a spouse survives the decedent, then the siblings will inherit everything.

When there are multiple beneficiaries, then the matter gets complicated. As per Texas Estates Code, if a spouse and their biological children survive the decedent, then all community property is inherited by the spouse, who also receives one-third of the separate personal property. Additionally, the spouse retains the right to use the real estate for the rest of his or her life. The children inherit everything else in this scenario. When there is a surviving spouse and children who are not the children of the spouse, the spouse inherits one-third of separate personal property and the right to use real estate for life and the children inherit everything else, plus one-half of the interest in the community property.

As the number of beneficiaries increases, the distribution of assets gets more and more complicated. Without a valid will, disputes will also arise during probate as to who gets what. This can cause friction between even the closest family members. Therefore, it is very important to take the time to create an estate plan and provide for one's heirs' futures.