Is it Possible to Contest an Heirship in the State of Texas?
The passing of a family member can create intense sadness and many other challenges for surviving loved ones. In addition to navigating the grieving process, several legal issues must be handled, including the distribution of the decedent’s estate. If the individual created a will before they passed, their assets are distributed to their beneficiaries according to the terms of their will by the executor of the estate.
However, if the individual dies without a will (also known as dying intestate), the process becomes much more complex. In these cases, the estate is subject to Texas’ intestacy laws, and the probate court will determine the distribution of assets to the decedent’s heirs. Under state law, all possible heirs should be informed of the legal proceedings so they can assert their interest in the estate. If an heir is excluded from the process or disagrees with the distribution of assets, they have the right to contest the heirship.
If you believe you have been incorrectly left out of heirship proceedings or did not receive the inheritance to which you are entitled, a knowledgeable probate attorney can examine your case and determine whether you have a legitimate reason to contest the heirship.
Which Individuals May Have an Heirship Dispute?
Texas law regarding the distribution of assets in situations where the decedent did not have a will is extremely complicated. The order of distribution is determined by the categorization of the heirs who have applied for heirship to the estate.
There are many different categories of people who may be able to assert their rights as an heir, including:
In some instances, other relatives such as stepchildren, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and more may even be able to assert their heirship. If any of these individuals have a disagreement regarding the distribution of assets, they may retain legal counsel to request an appeal or review of the heirship.
Others who may also assert their rights to heirship if they can provide sufficient proof to the court include:
Heirs Omitted in Legal Proceedings
When determining heirship, an effort must be made to notify all potential heirs, including unknown heirs. This often involves posting notices in the court and relevant newspapers. However, an heir may fail to see these notices and only become aware of their right to the estate at a later date. A knowledgeable heirship determination attorney can help determine the proper course of action for contesting the heirship if this situation applies to you.
Common Law Spouses
Texas recognizes common-law marriages that are not formalized through a marriage license or a Declaration of Informal Marriage as long as they meet specific requirements.
If you are a common-law spouse of an individual who has passed without a will, it can sometimes be challenging to assert your heirship rights. An experienced heirship determination attorney can help you gather the necessary documentation to establish your marriage and protect your rightful inheritance as a spouse.
Informally Adopted Children
If the decedent raised a minor child and considered that child their own, it is known as an informal adoption or adoption by estoppel for the purposes of inheritance. Under this inheritance theory, no formal adoption or parental termination on the part of the biological parents is required. An informally adopted child must be given the same rights to heirship as the decedent’s other children. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen, and informally adopted children may have to contest the heirship with the help of a lawyer to claim their share of the estate.
How Can You Contest an Heirship in Texas?
According to the Texas Estates Code, the judgment in a proceeding to decide heirship is final. However, an “interested person” has the right to contest the heirship by requesting that the probate court appeal or review their previous judgment. Under state law, the interested person must retain licensed legal counsel. Their attorney should be familiar with heirship law and have detailed knowledge of the probate process. Contesting heirship can be complicated, and your legal team must present satisfactory proof to the court to establish your inheritance rights.
Is There a Time Limit on Contesting a Texas Heirship?
If there has been no prior probate or transfer of property from the decedent’s estate, there is generally no time limit on filing an heirship claim. However, in most cases where an individual wants to contest an heirship, the probate court has already handed down its judgment.
Once probate has been completed, an individual usually only has two years from the date of the heirship determination to present their contest (Bill of Review) to the court. To protect your heirship rights, you must proactively pursue your appeal of the court’s judgment. A failure to act in a timely fashion could endanger your ability to correct heirship mistakes or oversights.
How Can an Heirship Determination Lawyer Assist You?
Intestacy proceedings in Texas can be complex, but you do not have to navigate the legal challenges of proving your heirship alone. If you are considering contesting an heirship, your first action should be to consult a skilled heirship lawyer. They can evaluate your claim to the estate to determine whether you have a valid reason to bring your case to the probate court and if you are still within the statute of limitations. Your lawyer can then help you collect and organize the documents, testimony, and other information required by the court to evaluate your request.
The Hatchett Law Firm, PLLC has extensive experience in heirship matters and can assist you in protecting your inheritance rights. Contact our law firm today at 281-214-6541 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your legal options.