What Happens If I Die Without A Will?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
What happens if I die without a will? This is a common question. According to an April 2022 survey done by Consumer Reports, 67% of Americans do not have a Last Will and Testament. Many people are uncomfortable with thinking about their death. However, if you do not have a will, you do not have any control over what happens to your assets after you die. This means that the Texas government, Texas law, and Texas probate court will determine what to do with your assets. This can make things complicated and confusing for the loved ones left behind. That is why it is important to make a will, even if you do not have many assets to leave to loved ones or feel uncomfortable thinking about your own death.

What Is the First Thing To Do When Someone Dies?

The first thing to do when someone dies depends in large part on one’s relationship to the deceased. If you are the person who is with the person when they die or who finds them after they have died, in many cases the first thing to do is get a legal pronouncement of their death. This may require calling a doctor, hospice nurse, or legal authority. You may also need to request an autopsy in accordance with Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.

For estate executors or next-of-kin, on the other hand, the first step is frequently to notify the deceased’s doctor or the county coroner of their death. Persons in either of these positions will also likely need to notify other close family and friends and call the person’s employer if they had one. If you are the decedent’s next of kin or the personal representative named as their executor, you may also be responsible for initiating funeral arrangements.

What Happens if a Person Who Dies Did Not Have a Valid Will?

When wondering “What happens if I die without a will?” another question often arises for people: What happens if someone dies, and their will is not valid?\

If a person dies with no will or an invalid will, they died intestate. Intestate is simply a legal term that indicates someone has died without a will. While in other circumstances it is sometimes possible to avoid putting an estate through probate, whenever someone dies intestate their estate must go through the state probate court. The probate court will then determines how to distribute the deceased person’s assets in accordance with the Texas Estates Code. The Estates Code establishes a system for apportioning assets based on the proximity of familial relationship between the deceased and their relatives, regardless of whether the deceased and their relative had a personal relationship prior to the death.

How Do I Know if My Will Is Valid?

A will is invalid if it is not properly signed and witnessed, if it has been revoked, or if it made under duress or under false pretenses. Copies will not be considered valid; only an original document will be accepted by the court. To ensure the validity of the original, the following steps should be taken:

  • Type or handwrite the will legibly
  • Sign the will in front of two witnesses
  • Have those two witnesses sign the will
  • Have the will notarized (this is not required by law, but is recommended so that the will can be self-proving per Texas Estates Code)
What Happens to Someone’s Bank Account if They Die Without a Beneficiary?

If an individual has a bank account and did not designate a beneficiary for the assets contained in it, the account will transfer through their will and probate law when the person dies. In other words, the bank account will be considered a part of their estate and be distributed accordingly. To avoid this, in many cases individuals can speak with their bank to request the appropriate forms to name a payable on death beneficiary. However, jointly owned accounts will continue to be owned by the surviving owner.

If you are attempting to manage someone’s estate and there is a bank account without a beneficiary, you can provide the bank with a death certificate and ask what other documentation they need. They may tell you they need “letters of testamentary” or “letters of administration.” These are documents the probate court provides, so you may consider visiting with an experienced attorney to learn more about how to obtain the necessary documentation.

What Is the Order of Next of Kin?

Next of kin is a term defining the nearest relatives to a person. In Texas, this terminology is often used when discussing probate, as well as when someone is injured or becomes ill and medical professionals need to speak with their relatives. The next of kin designation includes relatives through blood, adoption, and marriage.

Texas has a specific order for a deceased person’s next of kin based on decreasing level of connection to the deceased person. When probating an estate, Texas probate court will attempt to locate and contact these relatives in this order. If they are unable to locate and contact any of these relatives, the deceased is considered to have no next of kin. Texas defines next of kin, in this order, as:

  • Surviving spouse
  • Surviving adult children
  • Surviving grandchildren
  • Surviving great-grandchildren
  • Parents
  • Surviving adult siblings
  • Nieces and nephews
  • Aunts and uncles
  • Great-aunts and uncles
  • Cousins
What About Minor Children for Next of Kin?

Children under age 18 cannot legally own real property or receive any assets. Typically, when the parent of a minor child creates their will, they designate a guardian for the children. The guardian then manages any of the parents’ assets intended for the children until the children become adults. At this point, the assets are passed to the children.

If someone dies without a will and has minor children, things can become more complicated. Distribution of assets by the probate court depends on whether the person who died was married or single, if assets are personal or community property, how many children they had, and whether those children were all born from one relationship or from multiple relationships.

The Importance of a Will Cannot Be Overstated

No matter how unpleasant the thought of death may be, taking the time to think ahead and write a will gives you the most control over what happens to your assets when you die. If you have minor children, writing a will is even more important so you can designate a guardian and ensure that the assets you want your children to inherit will go to them. Without a will, there is no guarantee that any of your assets will go to the person you would want to have them. In addition, by writing a will and spelling out your wishes, you simplify matters for the loved ones left behind. Stop wondering, “What happens if I die without a will?” and give your loved ones peace of mind by writing a will.

Related Articles