Every adult needs a will. If you do not have one when you die, it means that the court has to distribute your property according to the state laws of intestacy, which is a legal term meaning “without a will.”

Like all other states, Texas has its own intestacy laws. These set forth who can take property from your estate and what property may descend. The laws of intestacy do not take individual circumstances into consideration. The intention is to distribute your property fairly among close surviving relations, but it may not reflect what you would have wanted.

Who may inherit

Generally speaking, laws of intestacy favor close relatives in a hierarchy. Your spouse and your children, assuming you have any, stand to inherit first. Other relatives who may inherit if you have no children or spouse include the following:

  • Your parents
  • Your siblings
  • Your grandparents
  • Your grandparents’ descendants (e.g., aunts, uncles or cousins)

Why a will is necessary

The laws of intestacy only apply to those with whom you have a legally recognized relationship. If you are a father who has not established legal paternity, your children may not inherit if you die. Children from a previous relationship may not receive what you intended for them. Similarly, a domestic partner with whom you cohabitate does not inherit unless you are legally married.

Though the laws of intestacy are very specific regarding who inherits under what circumstances, not everyone may be happy with the results. Emotions typically run high after a loved one’s death anyway, and family members who are unhappy about their inheritance may get into squabbles or fights. Dying intestate also means delays while the court chooses someone to administer the estate as well as extra expenses.

By making out a will that you have carefully thought out, you explain what you want to happen to your estate when you die, no matter how large or small it is. You express your wishes clearly so that there is less cause to fight over them, and you make sure that no one gets left out due to a technicality.