The State of Texas does not want your inheritance. It may end up with it anyway.
Blame it on Chapter 551, an obscure part of the Estates Code that is unhelpfully named “Payment of Estates into Treasury.”
What is Chapter 551
Under Chapter 551, you have an affirmative obligation to timely claim your inheritance. If you do not, then your inheritance will be turned over to the State of Texas.
In legal circles, we call that escheating. It is all part of a wider circle of laws that deal with turning unclaimed funds over to the State. While escheating is usually associated with unclaimed life insurance, bank accounts and financial investments, it turns out that it also applies to probate estates.
Chapter 551 sets forth how a court and an estate administrator must handle unclaimed shares of a probate estate. While seldom talked about – there are no reported appellate decisions – the language is mandatory and the procedures onerous.
Chapter 551 imposes upon you an obligation – an obligation to demand your share of the inheritance within 6 months after 2 different triggering events. The first event is a court order approving a partition of the estate property. The second is settlement of the final account of the probate administrator.
What Happens if You Do Not Claim Your Inheritance?
If you do not timely demand your share, then the court is required to enter a written order that your share be paid to the Texas comptroller. The Texas comptroller must be included as a party to the proceedings. The court clerk must send a copy of the order to the comptroller, and the executor must pay the funds within 30 days.
If your inheritance ends up with the comptroller, is all lost? No. You just need to go to a different law – Texas Property Code, Chapter 74 to be exact – to find out the rules to claim your money from the comptroller.
Or you could go to the website of the Texas Comptroller and follow those suggestions. Look for the Unclaimed Property section.
More on Unclaimed Inheritance
Two more thoughts on an unclaimed inheritance. Most probate estates never have to go through a partition action, so there is not a partition order. And a lot of probate estates are independent administrations, so the probate administrator is not required to file a final account with the court. In other words, the two triggering events never occur in most estates.
But that doesn’t mean you can sit still and do nothing. You still must worry about the 3- year rule and the 7-year rule.
What is the 3-year rule? That is the general escheat rule for personal property. Unclaimed personal property is considered abandoned if, for longer than 3 years, the location of the owner is unknown and a claim to the property has not been asserted.
The 7-year rule applies to both personal property and real property (surface land, mineral interests, etc.) If someone dies without a will and no known heirs, then after 7 years that property escheats to the state.
The claim procedures are more onerous under the 7-year rule. If the property is personal property, then the claimant must file a lawsuit within 4 years of the final judgment escheating the property to the state. If the property is real property, then the lawsuit must be filed within 2 years.
The laws on escheat and probate are intertwined. None of them work in your favor. If you find yourself an heir or devisee of a probate estate, then you need to act to protect your inheritance.
Hammerle Finley Can Help You With Your Estate Planning Needs
Virginia Hammerle is an attorney with Hammerle Finley Law Firm. She is entering her 40th year in the practice of law. She is Board Certified in Civil Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal specialization. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to receive her firm’s newsletter.