What Should You Do if You Are Considering Contesting a Texas Heirship Determination?
Contesting an heirship in Texas may be necessary if you believe you have been incorrectly excluded from an inheritance or disagree with how an estate’s assets will distributed between alleged heirs. Anyone who qualifies as an “interested party” has the right to contest the heirship by requesting that the probate court appeal or review their previous judgment. However, challenging a Texas heirship determination requires careful consideration and legal guidance. To win an heirship dispute, you must demonstrate that the preponderance of evidence supports your claim. This means convincing the court that your assertions are more likely to be true than not. You can make informed decisions about your next steps by consulting with an experienced Texas heirship determination lawyer and understanding the relevant processes.
Who is an Heir to an Estate?
It is not uncommon to hear the words “heir” and “beneficiary” used interchangeably, but they are legally distinct terms in Texas. A beneficiary is an individual named by the decedent in a will, life insurance policy, account deposit agreement, or other estate planning document as a recipient of specific assets or funds. If a person does not have a valid will in place at the time of their passing, then they have died “intestate,” and their heirs are the individuals who are legally eligible to inherit their estate.
Chapter 201 of the Texas Estates Code outlines the complex guidelines for determining the order of intestate succession. The unique circumstances of each case will play a key role in determining the identity of the decedent’s heirs and how much they stand to inherit. To file an heirship dispute, you must be an interested party who can demonstrate a claim to heirship in the estate. Due to the intricacy of Texas’ succession laws, speaking with a knowledgeable lawyer is essential to determine whether you may have a valid heirship contest. Individuals who could potentially have a claim to part of the estate include the decedent’s:
- Spouse (even if common law)
- Adopted children
- Children who were raised by the Decedent
- Brothers and sisters
- Children who had parental rights terminated
In some circumstances, heirship rights may even extend to more distant relatives if there are no surviving family members with closer ties. Your lawyer can investigate your case and provide detailed information and guidance tailored to your situation.
What Are Your Legal Options for a Contested Heirship?
If you are attempting to contest a Texas heirship, you should immediately retain the services of a qualified estate attorney who can represent your interests in court. Your legal team will evaluate your claim and determine the best way to pursue your inheritance through petitioning the probate court. You may need to complete an Application to Determine Heirship or a Small Estates Affidavit as part of your legal proceedings if any of the following situations exist:
- The decedent left no will, and the estate must still go through probate.
- A portion of the estate was omitted from the will.
- Property belonging to the estate was not adequately dealt with during probate.
You can also contest the heirship judgment if you are an heir who was not correctly served with a citation during the original heirship determination proceedings. In this situation, you are allowed to request that the probate court correct its judgment by bill of review. If you receive a ruling in your favor, you may be able to recover your inheritance from the heirs in the original judgment who received assets from the estate.
What Evidence Will You Be Required to Provide?
Proving your heirship rights can be a challenging and emotional process. The burden of proof in these cases rests with the party filing the heirship contest. Your evidence must conclusively show your relationship to the deceased individual and support your claim that you possess a legal right to a portion of the estate. The documents and information you must produce for the court will vary depending on the particulars of your claim, but may include:
- Birth certificates
- Adoption papers
- Professional genealogical research and family trees
- Affidavits completed by disinterested individuals who can vouch for your relationship to the decedent
- Proof of long-term cohabitation or other evidence of a serious relationship if you are claiming to be a common-law spouse
- DNA results (genetic testing)
Why is Prompt Action Crucial to an Heirship Contest?
Resolving an heirship dispute, particularly a complex one, can take time. Your legal team must investigate, collect documents, and organize their evidence in a manner that allows them to present the most robust possible case to the court. Other family members and heirs may fight back vigorously if they disagree with your assertions, so the court portion of your claim may be prolonged as both sides present their cases.
As time passes, gathering supporting evidence for your case may be significantly more challenging. Unfortunately, valuable property from the estate could also be sold by other heirs or fall into disrepair, making it harder to recover what is rightfully yours even if you are successful in your heirship dispute. Specific claims may also be subject to strict time limits under state law. Due to these factors, it is strongly recommended that you reach out to a skilled estate law attorney as soon as you realize you may have a valid claim.
How Can Our Law Firm Help You Pursue an Heirship Contest?
It is never easy to navigate the grief and confusion that follows in the wake of losing a loved one. Finding out that you have been improperly excluded from recovering your inheritance through an oversight or intentional act is a further blow. However, you may still feel uncertain about taking action because of concerns about potential family disagreements and the costs of pursuing your inheritance.
The Hatchett Law Firm has extensive experience providing compassionate and practical guidance to individuals considering contesting heirship proceedings. Our lawyers can examine your case, outline your legal options, and help you determine your next moves. To schedule a complimentary case assessment session, contact our law firm today at 281-771-0560.