While there is no legal requirement in Texas to have a will, it is highly advisable for an individual to draft one as part of planning an estate. A properly drawn will allows an individual to control the distribution of their assets following their death. A will can also be used to carry out other final wishes, such as establishment of trusts for charitable purposes or to care for a loved one with special needs.
An individual who dies without a will is deemed “intestate,” which means that their property — after payment of debts and other expenses — goes to their surviving heirs at law as defined by the Texas Estates Code. This is done by a court-appointed estate administrator, whose duties include locating all potential heirs. They include the surviving spouse, children, siblings and parents. A blood or marital relationship determines whether an individual is considered an heir and also fixes the estate share to which they are entitled.
Imagine a situation where a person dies and leaves behind a surviving spouse, two children and no will. The surviving spouse receives half the net estate, with the remainder evenly divided between the children. The deceased may have intended that the entire estate be left to their spouse, not just half. Or the decedent may have wanted a portion of their estate to be left to a close family friend. None of this is possible under the Texas Estates Code, as only blood and marital relationships control the distribution.
By contrast, a will allows an individual to identify all the people they want (or do not want) as their beneficiaries. Accordingly, a will allows an individual to distribute their entire estate to their surviving spouse or other family member or to designate an individual or organization as a beneficiary of the estate. A will can also be used to create a trust in behalf of a minor child or a loved one with special needs.
All in all, leaving a will provides a level of security that your estate will be distributed in accordance with you wishes and not be subjected to a legal process outside your control. With a carefully drafted will in place, there is far less chance of your assets being tied up in court contests.
To learn more about the estate planning services offered by Hayes, Berry, White & Vanzant, LLP in Denton, Gainesville, Flower Mound and Celina, call us at 940-230-2386 or contact us online for a free consultation.
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