Creating a will allows you to stipulate how you would like your estate handled when you pass away. A will is a crucial part of end-of-life planning, but, despite its importance, many Americans die without a will. In fact, an estimated 60% of people in the U.S. do not have a valid will.
Intestacy in Texas
Dying without a will, known as dying intestate, means that you do not get to have control over what happens to your estate after your death. If you die without a will, a judge will apply Texas intestate succession laws to determine how your assets get distributed and who will act as your estate’s executor. Because Texas laws prioritize immediate family members when distributing estate assets, your close friends or distant relatives are unlikely to receive anything. Your specific wishes for your estate will not be taken into consideration if you do not have a will.
Many people think that distributing their assets and settling their debts will be an easy task for their loved ones to address on their behalf, but this is not always the case. Disputes are common during the probate process, even amongst the most tight-knit families. Grief does not make it easy to make rational decisions or handle difficult situations. Creating a will or estate plan makes it easier for your friends and family members after you pass and ensures you maintain control over the decision-making process.
Texas Probate Process
The probate process in Texas can be lengthy and complex. One of the first steps a probate court will take is to appoint an administrator or executor for your estate. This person will have a tremendous amount of responsibility, including:
– Identifying and collecting your assets;
– Settling any debts or claims against your estate;
– Paying taxes and fees;
– Petitioning the court to determine heirs; and
– Distributing assets to heirs.
A judge will appoint someone to fill this role if you die without a will. However, creating a will means you can choose your estate executor, and this important decision won’t be based solely on probate and succession laws that cannot consider your family dynamics.
In terms of asset distribution, Texas usually divides community property equally between any descendants and a surviving spouse. Community property generally includes anything that was acquired during your marriage and paid for by marital earnings or income. Separate property will likely be distributed to your closest relatives after your death. If you die without a will, Texas probate courts often use a family hierarchy model that starts with a surviving spouse at the top, followed by children, parents, and so on, to determine inheritance.
There are exceptions to these rules, and probate is a notoriously challenging process and can be quite expensive, which is why the best way to handle inheritance and asset distribution is by at a minimum, creating a will and possibly a Revocable Living Trust if your situation warrants it.
If you have any questions or you are ready to draft your Will, contact Warren & Migliaccio.