Sadly, most individuals die having never executed a Will. In many of these cases, a Court must determine who is entitled to receive the decedent’s property. These heirship proceedings can be challenging for the unfamiliar. Here are the steps in a nutshell.
1. An Application is Filed
Every heirship proceeding in Texas begins with the filing of an application. The applicant alleges several facts concerning the decedent. Most importantly, the application discusses the decedent’s marital status and the names, ages and locations of their family. The application resembles a family tree, as it might even list predeceased parents, siblings or children.
2. Notice is Given
Even though the applicant and the listed heirs might all be fully aware of the application, the Court must be satisfied that the procedural rules regarding notice have been followed. For the known heirs, a waiver or similar document might be signed and filed. As an added precaution, Texas law also requires publishing notice of the application.
3. An Attorney ad Litem is Appointed
Even with all of the notice requirements, the Court cannot simply take the allegations in the application as true. When the Court appoints an Attorney ad Litem, it is appointing an attorney to represent any unknown heirs, and those heirs operating under some legal disability. This attorney’s role is to participate in the proceeding for those heirs that may not be able to know about it, and to affirm that all of the heirs are correctly identified. In many cases, doing so means that this appointed attorney eventually proves that their clients do not exist. In some cases, through communication with the applicant and those with knowledge of the decedent, additional heirs are sometimes discovered.
4. A Hearing is Held
Everything comes down to the applicant’s ability to prove to the Court that the individuals listed in the application are, in fact, the heirs of the decedent. The Court typically hears testimony from the applicant, from two or three individuals familiar with the decedent, and may even consider documentary evidence. At the conclusion of the hearing, a Judgment is signed. This Judgment confers the specific rights to the decedent’s property to the proven heirs.