The need to prepare a will is one that is stressed time and time again by estate planning experts in Houston. Yet despite this advice, some estimates put the percentage of American adults without a will as high as 60 percent. You might think that if do not specify how you want your assets distributed, your heirs can make that decision once you are gone (allowing you to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings with your decisions). The truth is, however, that if you die intestate (without a will), it is the state that decides who benefits from your estate. 

The topic of intestacy has been introduced on this blog before; this post will delve further into the details of who gets what if you do not specify it in a will. According to Section 201.002 of Texas’ Estates Code, your surviving spouse inherits your entire personal estate. If, however, you also leave behind children or grandchildren, then your spouse will receive one-third of your personal estate while the remaining two-thirds is divided equally amongst your surviving issue. As for whatever land you may own, your surviving spouse retains a life estate of one-third its value, with the remaining going to your children or grandchildren (your spouse would receive a life estate of half the land’s value if you have no other heirs, and would inherit the other half due to the state’s rules of descent and distribution). 

If you have no surviving spouse or issue, Texas’ intestate succession laws dictate that entitlement to your estate would be in the following order: 

  • Parents
  • Siblings 
  • Paternal and maternal kindred
  • Nearest lineal relative 

No allowances are given for friends, organizations or charitable causes. The only way for such parties to benefit from your estate would be for you to include them in a will.