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What Happens if You Die Without a Will?

Dying without a Will is called dying intestate. If you die in Texas without a Will, the legislature has written one for you, so to speak. The Texas Estates Code has rules that say exactly to whom your property goes if you die without a Will, whether it’s your separate property or community property, and whether you have kids from one marriage or multiple marriages.

An intestate estate starts off a lot like an estate where there is a Will. The first thing you need to do is get your arms around what the property of the estate is, accumulating everything that the estate owns and owes, the pluses and the minuses. While you’re doing that you’re also determining what the carrying cost of the estate is–what bills have to be paid. There are some bills, such as a house, that will have a mortgage, and those debts ultimately either have to go to the person taking the property or be paid off by the estate.

Then, in an estate where there is no Will, you have to determine who the heirs are. That’s done with what is called an heirship proceeding. An heirship proceeding must be heard by a judge– the evidence is presented and the judge ultimately signs an order declaring who are the heirs of the estate. If the deceased person has a surviving spouse, that spouse is entitled to receive certain property by ownership and to the use of certain property, such as the family home, during their lifetime; this is called a “life estate.” Then, typically, upon the death of the surviving spouse or their permanent abandonment of the property, ownership and the use of the property will then to the deceased person’s children. If the deceased person has children from multiple marriages, which is very common now, the property is distributed differently than if the deceased person’s children are all from the same marriage.

After determining who the heirs are and how the estate should be distributed, the administrator prepares and files a final accounting, asks the court to allow them to distribute the estate, and then the estate is closed.

This video is part of a series on Wills and Probate. Click the links below to view more videos in this series.

Why Do You Need a Will?

What is Probate?

What Is the Probate Process?

When Is a Will Contested?

How are Debts Addressed in a Probate?