Beneficiary Behind Bars

How do you pay money to someone who is serving 2-10 in state prison? 

Very carefully.

Sometimes personal representatives, who are executors or administrators for a probate estate, find themselves with that exact dilemma. Someone who is entitled to a distribution from an estate – we will call him a distributee – has been convicted and is now an involuntary guest of the State of Texas. 

The personal representative obviously can’t just walk into the pen and hand the distributee a check. The prison officials would frown on that.  

So how should it be handled?

State Prison Distributee

The first step is to locate the distributee. If he is incarcerated in a Texas State prison, then you can use the inmate locator search engine on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s website.  

Once you have the distributee’s contact information, send him a letter about his estate inheritance. Note that there are special rules involving inmate correspondence. Resist the temptation to send your letter on colored, decorated stationery or to enclose an envelope with prepaid postage. If you want your letter to go through, then review the TDCJ Uniform Inmate Correspondence Rules.  

Ask the inmate if he has a written Power of Attorney and, if he does, to send it to you. If it is a valid Power of Attorney, then you may be able to pay the inmate’s inheritance to the agent named in his Power of Attorney. This will depend on the validity and wording of the power of attorney. 

Alternatively, you may be able to pay the inheritance directly into the inmate’s trust account at the prison. The inmate probably is not going to like this alternative, since the department is entitled to withdraw money from the trust account to pay an inmate’s past-due child support, restitution, reimbursement to HHSC for financial assistance paid for an inmate’s child, court costs and fees, fines, and judgments.  

Federal Prison Distributee

Things play out a bit differently if, instead of being in a state prison, the distributee is in a federal prison.  

The Federal Bureau of Prisons, which goes by the friendly acronym BOP, also has an online inmate search engine and rules about incoming and outgoing correspondence with federal inmates. Look at the BOP Program Statement on Correspondence for the guidelines.

Send the inmate a letter with the same information.  

The BOP has an Inmate Financial Responsibility Program that encourages federal offenders to voluntarily pay their court-ordered financial obligations while incarcerated. BOP’s Program Statement on Financial Responsibility, Inmate specifically addresses how an inmate should handle his inheritance.  

How the inmate chooses to handle the inheritance is between him and the BOP.

Regardless of the type of institution, if the inmate beneficiary does not respond to your letter or does not have a power of attorney, then you may have to pay his beneficiary inheritance to the Texas Comptroller. This is, frankly, a pain. There are additional steps you must take, including preparing a final account for the estate and obtaining a court order to pay the funds to the Comptroller. You must make the Texas Comptroller a party to the probate.    

It is all expensive and cumbersome. 

Then again, the inmate may be released from prison before it is time for you to distribute the estate and you won’t have to worry about any of this.  

Jumping to the other side for a moment, if you are making out your estate plan and want to leave money to someone who may end up in prison, please consider a trust.

Hammerle Finley Can Help With Your Estate Planning Needs

If you are looking for estate planning assistance, schedule a consultation with one of the experienced attorneys at Hammerle Finley to discuss your options.

Virginia Hammerle is in her fourth decade of practicing law. She is Board Certified in Civil Trial by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and an Accredited Estate Planner. Contact her at or visit This column does not constitute legal advice.