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Judicial Determinations Of Heirship

A judicial determination of heirship is a legal process through which a probate court formally identifies and confirms the rightful heirs of a decedent’s estate when they die without a valid will, or when a decedent’s will does not fully dispose of the estate. In Texas, this process is governed by the Texas Estates Code and is a crucial step in ensuring the proper distribution of a decedent’s property according to the laws of intestate succession.

When a person dies without a valid will they are said to have “died intestate.” An intestate estate is subject to the Texas laws of intestate succession. These laws provide a statutory framework that determines how the decedent’s property should be distributed among their surviving relatives. Generally, the spouse and children are the primary heirs in an intestate estate. However, the specific distribution depends on the decedent’s familial circumstances and whether their property is community or separate.

A judicial determination of heirship is essential in Texas when a decedent dies intestate or when a will does not fully dispose of the estate. In such cases, the court must establish the rightful heirs of the decedent to distribute the property accordingly. This process identifies the decedent’s heirs and describes the shares of the estate to which each heir is entitled. The process also works to prevent fraudulent claims by pretenders and other non-heirs and ensures that only legitimate heirs receive their rightful share of the estate.

An outline of the process required to obtain a judicial determination of heirship is as follows:

  1. Filing of application to determine heirship. The judicial determination of heirship usually begins when an interested party, such as a potential heir or a creditor, files an application to determine heirship with the appropriate county or probate court. The application must contain specific information about the decedent, their property, their family history, and their known heirs.
  2. Appointment of attorney ad litem. After heirship proceedings are initiated, the court will appoint an attorney ad litem to represent the interests of unknown heirs. The attorney ad litem is responsible for conducting an independent investigation into the decedent’s family history to identify any additional or unknown heirs.
  3. Required notices. Texas law requires that notice of the judicial determination of heirship proceeding be given to all known heirs by having them served with the process via certified mail or personal service, and on all unknown heirs by publishing citation in a newspaper of record. The purpose of this notice is to afford these individuals the opportunity to participate in the proceedings, present evidence, or contest the determination of heirship.
  4. Preparation for the hearing. In preparation for the hearing, the parties involved will gather evidence to establish the identity of the rightful heirs. This evidence may include birth certificates, death certificates, marriage licenses, and other documents that demonstrate the relationships between the decedent and their potential heirs.
  5. The heirship hearing. During the hearing, the court will consider the evidence presented by the parties and the attorney ad litem. Witnesses, including the applicant and other interested parties, may be called upon to testify regarding the decedent’s family history and relationships. After considering the evidence and testimony, the judge will make a determination of the rightful heirs.
  6. Issuance of judgment declaring heirship. Once the judge has made their determination, they will issue a judgment declaring the decedent’s heirs and their respective shares of the estate. This judgment serves as an official record of the decedent’s heirs and their entitlements.

In addition to making an heirship determination, the probate court may also appoint an independent or dependent administrator if an administration of the decedent’s estate is necessary.

Personal Attention And Individualized Probate Solutions

Obtaining a judicial determination of heirship is a complicated process requiring the assistance of an experienced attorney. To schedule a consultation with one of our probate attorneys at Aldrich Law Firm, PLLC, please call us today at (210) 418-1150 or send us a message by completing the intake form on our website.