TEXAS, USA — Taking care of your family after you've passed away is something many people think and care about.
This is why we received a couple of viewer emails related to this question:
Does Texas law require you to have a will?
Leigh Whitaker, senior associate attorney for Wilson Legal Group
Ryan Marquez, Professor of practice for the University of Houston Law Center
Lorie Burch, owner and managing attorney for Burch Law
No, you are not required to have a will to pass down assets once you die...but it can make the process go faster and in some cases, be cheaper.
WHAT WE FOUND
A will is a legal document that explains what a person's wishes are regarding their property or estate after death.
It must go through a probate process for it to pass down legally in Texas. This is when a court recognizes someone's death and manages the payment of that person's finances and assets while also validating a will if it is present.
Most courts in Texas will require some form of an attorney to complete the probate process.
If you die without a will, your assets will still be passed down. A court will make that decision based on Texas’s intestate succession laws.
"There are basically default rules that come into play when that happens, as far as who gets what," Whitaker said. "First it goes to your kids. If not your kids, then your parents. If not your parents, then your siblings, essentially."
There are also alternative legal options to a will such as a revocable living trust or a deed, according to Burch.
"A will is going to really do three things," Burch said. "It's going to make things go faster, it's going to make things less expensive and the most important takeaway is your wishes are going to be carried out, which is not necessarily what the government thinks should happen with your money, your assets and even your kids."
If you have property outside of Texas, then the process varies by state and jurisdiction.
"You might have to do an ancillary proceeding in that other state to pass title to that other state," Marquez said.
When dealing with wills in Texas, you will mainly be dealing with state laws. The only federal laws that have a chance of coming into play in certain situations are related to tax laws.
"We generally advise them to make sure that they check with a CPA so they understand the tax implications, which we can't advise them on," Whitaker said.
When you factor in blended families and unique family structures, the lack of a will can complicate the process.
"There are a lot of reasons why you want to control those things and put them into your own hands and really just make things easier and seamless for your loved ones, should something happen to you," Burch said.