As a Houston probate lawyer, people often say to me, “I don’t have a will. What will happen to my stuff when I die?” A most Texas probate lawyers will tell you, the answer is, “it depends.”
Dying without a will in Texas (known as dying “intestate”) can present a number of challenges in probate, some of which are small and some of which can be real obstacles that can be difficult to manage. If you are married (and have never been married before), and your only children are those from your current marriage, the answer is usually not complicated. In that case, when you die, your spouse gets your one-half interest in the community property, and he or she keeps her one-half, essentially ending up with all of the community property from your marriage. However if you have separate property (generally speaking, property acquired after marriage or property received through inheritance or gift), then your spouse will only receive part of your separate property, and the children will receive the rest.
The above scenario is only one of many different ways an estate can be divided when a person dies intestate in Texas, depending on whether the decedent was married (and how many times), whether he or she had children, and if so, whether those children are from the current marriage or relationship or a previous one. The provisions of who will receive your assets is governed by the Texas Estates Code, and it has been my experience as a Houston probate lawyer that the default provisions rarely coincide with the wishes of my clients. Because of this, it is important to have in place an estate plan that disposes of your assets and supports and provides with your family according to your specific needs and desires. Without an estate plan in place, you are leaving the disposition of your estate and potentially your family’s well-being in the hands of legislators who, although having good intentions in writing the law regarding intestacy, have no idea what your specific needs are. You should contact a Houston estate planning lawyer to find out how you can get an estate plan in place that will meet your specific goals and objectives.