Inheritance Rights in Texas

Representing Heirs and Beneficiaries in Northwest Harris County

One the services we provide at the Law Offices of Joseph E. Seiler is legal counsel and representation for individuals who are concerned about their right to inherit property. Many individuals seek legal advice simply because they want to ensure that they receive the property that was left to them. In some cases, beneficiaries are aware that they were devised property from a friend or loved one but it has been months or years since the person passes away and they have no idea when they will receive the property to which they are legally entitled.

How does a person obtain an inheritance right in Texas?

Generally, there are two ways to inherit money or other property. These are:

✧ By being named as a beneficiary in a will; or

✧ By being related to the deceased individual so as to inherit by intestate succession.

When an individual leaves a valid will, the title to their estate will pass to his or her “heirs” as determined by the Texas laws of intestate succession. If a person dies single with children, then the children will inherit everything. If the person dies and his or spouse is still living, then generally the spouse and children will share a percentage interest in his or property. For a complete overview of the laws of intestate succession, please see the following link.

If a person dies leaving a will, then under Texas inheritance law, the will overrides the default laws of intestate succession. However, the will can only be admitted to probate if it valid. If it is not valid, then the deceased person’s property will pass either in accordance with the laws of intestate succession or in accordance with an earlier will if the deceased person in fact had an earlier will. 

What if the will is invalid?

There are multiple grounds upon which a will can be found to be invalid. If any of these are found to exist, courts will generally deny the will admission to probate. Some of the most common causes of invalidity in a will include:

✧ The will was not signed by two witnesses

✧ The two witness did not sign in the presence of the person making the will or the witnesses signed long after the testator signed.

✧ The person lacked testamentary capacity to make a will.

✧ The person was subject to an undue influence.

✧ The will was made or signed as a result of fraud or trickery

✧ The will fails to conform to some other statutory requirement for a valid will.

How to contest a will?

If there is ligitimate reason to believe that a will is invalid, then one can bring what is called a “will contest.” In short, a will contest is essentially a lawsuit in which a person challenges a will that is being offered for, or has already been admitted to, probate. Under Texas inheritance law, any “person interested in an estate” may bring a will contest. However, even though the term “interested person” sounds broad, it has been restricted by courts to include heirs, beneficiaries, spouses, or anyone with an interest in an estate that actually will be effected by the admission or non-admission of the will. A person who falls into any of these three groups may bring a contest of a will as long as they do so within two years of its admission to probate.

Will contests are generally divided into two types depending upon whether they are brought before the will is admitted to probate or brought after the will is admitted to probate. If possible, a person who wishes to contest a will should try to file the necessary documents with the court before the court admits the will to probate. If a will is challenged before being admitted by the court, then the burden of proving the will’s validity is on the party who wants the will admitted. In this case, the party challenging the will does not have to prove anything. Once the will is admitted to probate, it is not too late to bring a will contest. However, the burden of proving invalidity now shifts to the person contesting the will. Whether filed before or after a will is admitted to probate, a will contest generally begins when the attorney for party challenging the will files a contest pleading with the court. 

What if the will has already been probated?

Sometimes a beneficiary under a will or an heir under the laws of intestacy may not discover that they have inheritance rights until after the deceased individual’s estate has already been probated. This can happen for many reasons. For example, it can occur because an intended beneficiary was never informed of the person’s death. Sometimes it occurs because the intended beneficiary was never told that they were a named as beneficiary in the will. In addition, a flaw that renders a will invalid may have been overlooked and not discovered until after the will was admitted to probate. 

The Texas legislature forsaw that situations like this were possible, especially in the context of probating a deceased person estate.  As a result, the legislature passed a law which allows for what is called a “statutory bill of review“. This is basically a tool by which a beneficiary or any person interested in an estate can “revise or correct an order or judgment upon a showing of error”. The statutory bill of review has been “codified” in the Texas Estate Code in section 55.251 and allows a interested person to petition the court to correct a ruling as long as it done within two years of the original ruling.

Therefore, in certain instances, a court judgment that relates to the probate of an estate, whether the decedent left a valid will or not, can be reevaluated if there is legitimate reason to believe that the judgment was incorrect. This can be done in a variety of different situations, with some of the more common examples being the discovery of error in a will that has already been probated or the discovery of additional heirs either during or after an intestate administration.

Independant Executor or Administrator gone rouge?

Beneficiaries often seek legal advice and representation when they believe that an independent executor or administrator is not doing a proper job settling and distributing an estate. The term “independent executor” refers to the party in charge of administering an estate when a will specifically assigns a person the role of settling the decedent’s affairs and distributing his or her property. The term “administrator of the estate” refers to a party appointed by the court to settle the decedent’s affairs when there is no will or when there is a will but it does not specify who is to be the executor. Both of these positions are sometimes referred to as the “personal representative” of the estate. However, even though the executor or administrator may be temporarily in charge of estate property, they still owe a fiduciary duty to heirs and beneficiaries and are required to properly distribute the estate property to them as soon as they settle all of the decedent’s affairs. 

Sometimes the executor or administrator is negligent with estate property or is simply taking too long to distribute the property to the rightful heirs and beneficiaries. In this type of situation, there are several options that an heir or beneficiary can take to enforce their rights. These include:

✧ Initiating an enforcement action to obtain a court order compelling the executor or administrator to perform a certain act.

✧ Initiating a removal action in which the heir or beneficiary asks the court remove the current executor or administrator and appoint a new one.

✧ Filing an action against the executor or administrator for a breach of fiduciary duty.

To read more about how to enforce a beneficiary’s rights against an executor or administrator of an estate, please read our webpage on fiduciary litigation.

Contact the Law Offices of Joseph E. Seiler to schedule a free one-half hour strategy session

If you are an heir or beneficiary of an estate in the Northwest Harris County area including Houston, Brenham, Hempstead, Tomball, or Cypress, Texas and you are interested in receiving legal advice or representation, then please contact the Law Offices of Joseph E. Seiler to schedule a free one-half hour strategy consultation. To schedule your free strategy session, please message us on our contact page or call us at (713) 343-1450.

Law Offices Joseph E. Seiler Northwest Houston
Joseph E. Seiler focuses on helping individuals and families with their probate administration, estate planning, inheritance, and trust law needs. He is affiliiated with several prominent legal organizations, including:

State Bar of Texas

Texas Supreme Court

All Texas Appellate Courts

United State Federal Court for the Southern District of Texas

Houston Bar Association

Northwest Houston Bar Association

You will receive focused personal attention and speak directly with Mr. Seiler. Our attorney communicates promptly with each client, treats them with empathy, and is eager to help them with their legal needs. Through knowledgable and diligent representation, Mr. Seiler works to protect each client’s rights as he guides them through the legal system. To schedule a free consultation with Mr. Seiler, please call (713) 343-1450.

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