Do You Know What Happens to Your “Stuff”
If You Die Without a Will?
The late comedian George Carlin said, “A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it.”
That may be true, but some of that stuff is important stuff. We all have stuff that is of sentimental value and other stuff that has real financial value.
Don’t forget about that “cover”—as Carlin put it—your home and other real estate are also of financial value.
Create an Estate Plan Now
You want to provide for your family. You should be prepared for the inevitable, that you’ll pass away at some point and also that you may die expectantly. That preparation includes drafting a will, a health care directive, living will, and other estate planning documents.
But what happens if you don’t do that, and you pass away without a will?
In our state, without a will, the distribution of your stuff will be pretty straightforward, based upon these factors:
- Whether you’re married;
- Whether you have children;
- Whether you have any children from a previous marriage or relationship;
- Whether your parents are still alive; and
- Whether you have any siblings still alive.
Your answers to these questions will determine who gets your stuff when you die and didn’t plan ahead by creating a will.
Intestate Succession Laws
In Texas, your stuff will automatically be distributed to your closest relatives under what are called the state’s “intestate succession” laws. There really isn’t any room for debate or arguments… no thoughtful bequests of some sentimental items to a close friend or a generous donation to your church or favorite charity.
These laws are designed to matter-of-factly distribute your assets (your stuff) to those who have the closest connection to you, and it is not necessarily your spouse. The thought is that if you had taken a few hours to think about it and create a will, you probably would have left your stuff to these same people anyways.
But again, there’s no discretion and no accounting for a child’s special circumstances or even a token gift to a favorite neighbor or business associate. No, it’s all decided, and the order has been pre-determined by the law.
The state intestate laws are shown on the chart below and are pretty simple. If you only leave behind a spouse (no children, parents, or siblings), that person will get everything. If you only have parents or only have children—they get everything. When you leave behind two or more groups of relatives (such as a spouse and parents), your stuff is split up according to the laws.
What If I want everything to go to my spouse?
If you don’t have a legal will when you die your assets may or may not go to your spouse, depending on your family situation. It is a myth that you will not need to take any court action. Even if you have a simple estate (your house) and a straightforward family situation (spouse and two kids), you will have to go to court, be represented by an attorney in probate court, and hire an Attorney ad Litem to determine the heirs of your spouse’s estate. Yes, you are required to hire two attorneys in that situation. As you can see, not having a will becomes expensive.
If You Have a Will: You get to decide which charities, friends, and relatives get your stuff.
If You Have No Will: The law decides who gets your stuff.
Take the time to prepare for your family’s future by preparing a will and a complete estate plan with an experienced attorney. Talk to Pamela Hailey-Petty by contacting the Hailey-Petty Law Firm by calling (512) 910-8977 to reach our Austin office, (210) 570-2458 to reach our San Antonio office, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your future and the future of your family are our business.