father gives documents to his son

You are an heir

In Texas, the value of that is exactly zero unless you have a relative who conveniently dies with probate assets that are not disposed of by a will. We call those types of relatives “intestates.”

An intestate’s estate must be distributed to an intestate’s heirs. The heirs are lined up by class. Your placement in the class determines whether, and how much, you will inherit.

What Are The Rules To Being An Heir? 

There are 2 rules. To be an heir, you must be alive or in gestation at the time of the intestate’s death. If you are born 2 years after your grandfather’s death, then you are not his heir.

You must also survive the intestate’s death by 120 hours. If you and your grandfather die at the same time, then you are not his heir.

Assuming you pass the life and death tests, then you need to be in one of the 7 classes of heirs to stand a chance of inheritance: surviving spouse, children and their descendants, parents, siblings and their descendants, grandparents and their descendants, other blood relatives and half-blood relatives.

Those have technical definitions.

Defining An Heir

“Surviving spouse” means someone who was married, formally or by common-law, to the intestate.

“Children and their descendants” means biological and adopted children. The intestate’s biological children are heirs, even if they were illegitimate or the product of a marriage that was declared void or annulled. Adopted children are treated the same as biological children, except that they get a bonus: adopted children inherit from both their adoptive parents and their biological parents whose rights were terminated. There are 2 exceptions to this. A child who was adopted as an adult will not inherit through his or her adoptive parents. And a child whose inheritance rights were cut off in the order terminating parental rights will not inherit from his or her biological parents.

Stepchildren are not considered children of an intestate and will not inherit.

“Parents” means biological parents and adoptive parents. However, if your parental rights to the intestate were terminated then you are not an heir. 

The definitions for “siblings,” “grandparents,” and “blood relatives” hold no surprises.

“Half-blood relatives” are the intestate’s collateral relatives of the half blood. A collateral relative is a sibling, aunt, uncle, etc who are not descendants or ancestors of the intestate. A half blood is a relative, such as a half-sister or a half-brother, who shares just 1 common ancestor with the intestate. Their inheritance share is usually reduced.

When Courts Impact An Heir

Even if you are an heir, you can still botch your right to inherit. A court can enter an order terminating your right to inherit from your child under 18 if you abandoned or committed a crime against him or her. A court can also wipe out your inheritance right if you caused the death of the intestate.

What Does Your Heir Class Mean?

If the intestate did not leave a surviving spouse, then the estate goes to the children and their descendants. If there are none, then it goes to the intestate’s parents. If only one parent is living, then half goes to the intestate’s siblings, and so on down the class ranks.

If there is a surviving spouse, then the estate is divided into community property and separate property and distributed according to a complicated formula.

Most people are heirs without an inheritance. Only a lucky few will find a pot of gold buried under the family tree.

Hammerle Finley Can Help With Your Probate Needs 

Wondering what probate solutions would work best for you and your family? Schedule a consultation with one of the experienced attorneys at Hammerle Finley to discuss your options. 

Attorney Virginia Hammerle has practiced litigation and estate planning for 40 years. She is founder and managing attorney for Hammerle Finley Law Firm.