Why You Need a Will

What happens to your possessions when you don't let the state of Texas know your wishes?

When someone dies without a valid will — a situation known as dying intestate — he leaves it up to the state to determine how his possessions are to be divided. But it’s not simply up to some government employee to make a judgment call on how to divvy up your stuff. The Texas Estates Code meticulously lays out the rules of inheritance by going down the line of next-of-kin.

If you die intestate, the first person in line to receive your estate is your legal spouse. If no spouse exists, your children and their descendants are next. (It’s worth noting that as far as the Estates Code is concerned, there is no difference between biological and formally adopted children.) If you have no children, your parents get the estate. If your parents are deceased, the estate goes to your siblings or their descendants (your nieces and nephews). And if you have no nuclear relatives, your estate is split in two identical parts, with one half passed down to your maternal grandparents (or their nearest lineal ancestors) and the other half going to the same relatives on your father’s side. Only in the case that a person has no surviving spouse or blood relatives does the State of Texas inherit the estate.

But what if you have specific plans for your stuff after you pass on? How do you avoid this fate of statutory estate planning? The simple answer: write a will. And the best way to do that is to consult an attorney who specializes in wills and probate.

Technically, you don’t need a lawyer to write a valid will in Texas. As long as you’re of sound mind and are either 18 or older, have been married, or are in the military, it’s possible to pen a last will and testament that will be binding in Texas courts. But there are potential pitfalls in the will-writing process that probate attorneys are trained to avoid. Avoiding these blunders could lead to an heir unwittingly being left out or even the entire will being invalidated.

But if you’re undeterred by the thought of going it alone, websites like LegalZoom.com or software like Quicken WillMaker can help make the process a little simpler for a minimal fee.