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What happens if your elderly parent dies without an estate plan?

On Behalf of | May 2, 2022 | Estate Planning, Probate, Wills & Trusts

When your parents die, you and your siblings will have to go through their possessions and review their estate plans. It can be a lengthy process to pay their debts and settle their affairs.

The process can seem even more overwhelming when your parents did not have the foresight to leave behind an estate plan or will explaining their wishes regarding their property. When your parents die and don’t leave behind an estate plan, you may not even know how to start the probate process.

Thankfully, there are clear rules that apply when someone dies in Texas without an estate plan.

The probate courts have rules for such scenarios

It is common for people to die without estate plans or any testamentary documents whatsoever. When that happens, your family must notify the probate courts so that they can oversee intestate probate proceedings. Intestate is the legal term for dying without a will or other testamentary documents.

Texas state law is clear about what happens to someone’s personal property when they die without an estate plan. Under intestate succession laws, the closest family members are the ones with the right to inherit property from the estate. The strongest rights go to the spouse of the deceased person. Living spouses have the protection of Texas community property laws and the right to claim a portion of their spouse’s share of their community property as well.

When there are surviving children, the children share those inheritance rights with the surviving spouse of the deceased individual. The rules differ depending on whether the surviving spouse is also the biological parent of the children who will inherit or if there is a stepparent situation.

Unfortunately for those who do not have a direct biological relationship with the deceased, friends and more distant relatives don’t have inheritance rights unless there is an explicit estate plan in place or no closer family relationships.

How do you start probate without a will?

Your family will need to notify the probate courts of the death and attest to the fact that you cannot find an estate plan or will. The courts can help with this process by naming someone to serve as the executor or representative of the estate. That executor will then need to comply with Texas state law when they distribute assets and resolve financial obligations.

Learning the basics of Texas probate laws can help you understand what to expect regardless of the circumstances surrounding your loved one’s recent death.