Texas Estates Code Chapter 201 is part of Texas law that covers the descent and distribution of assets of a deceased person who passed away without a will or other estate planning documents.
When there is no will or trust to guide how property should be divided between the deceased’s heirs, the assets are distributed according to state default laws called “intestacy laws.” The way that property is distributed is known as “intestate succession.”
Chapter 201 also covers the process by which family members can apply for heirship in order to receive their rightful inheritance. This is generally done through an “heirship proceeding” or a “proceeding to determine heirship.”
What Is an Heir?
An heir is a family member who is legally entitled to inherit property from a deceased person’s estate. The most common types of heirs in Texas include spouses, children, parents, and siblings, but other relatives such as aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, and even cousins can be heirs in some situations.
How Do You Prove You are an Heir?
You can prove you are an heir by offering evidence of your familial relationship with the decedent. This may include your birth certificate or a series of birth certificates that establish a link between you and your family. You can also use evidence such as a family Bible with a family tree, online genealogies, and adoption records or even a paternity test under the Texas Family Code.
Additionally, in a proceeding to declare heirship, two disinterested and credible witnesses must testify about a decedent’s heirs and family history in open court, by deposition, or by affidavit. However, if only one disinterested and credible witness can be found after a diligent search was made, the court may determine that their testimony is sufficient.
Are Adopted or Stepchildren Heirs to a Parent’s Estate?
Yes, adopted children and stepchildren who have been formally adopted are heirs to their adoptive parent’s estate.
Under Texas Estates Code Section 201.054, an adopted child is regarded as the child of the adoptive parent for purposes of inheritance under the state intestacy laws. This means that the adopted child and the adopted child’s descendants will be entitled to inherit as if the adopted child were the natural child of the adoptive parent. Additionally, the adoptive parent or parents can also inherit from an adopted child.
However, stepchildren who have not been adopted are not considered to be heirs under Texas law. If you want your spouse’s children to receive an inheritance when you die, you must make such arrangements through a will or another estate planning instrument or adoption.
Can You Contest an Heirship Proceeding?
Yes, an interested party can contest an application to declare heirship by participating in the proceedings. An heirship judgment can also be appealed to a higher court.
The following people must be made a party to a proceeding to declare heirship:
- Any unknown heirs of the decedent
- Each person who is named as an heir in the application
- Each person who has an interest in any real property listed in the application
As parties to the proceeding, these people can challenge whether someone actually is an heir, provide their own evidence as to the decedent’s heirs, and otherwise participate in the proceeding to ensure that the court reaches a fair and accurate determination of heirship. If a party disagrees with the court’s judgment, they can file an appeal to a court with more authority.
If you are involved in an heirship proceeding or are considering filing one, you should contact a knowledgeable probate litigation attorney as soon as possible to further assist you. A skilled lawyer can help you understand the process and ensure that your interests are represented in court.
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