Creating a last will can seem like an unpleasant task, which is one of the reasons that people may put this important process off for too long. For some people, they will wait so long that they never get the opportunity to commit their final wishes to writing, either because they delayed until their health declined too far or because they experienced an unexpected medical event or accident.

Dying without a last will means that neither you nor your loved ones have any say in how the probate courts in Texas distribute your assets. Instead, the state will follow specific rules about who benefits from your estate in a process known as intestate succession.

How do assets pass down without a will in Texas?

Your family relationships will determine the way the state distributes your assets, with your spouse and children receiving the highest priority in the process. If you die and leave behind a spouse and child that you share with that spouse, your spouse gets all of the community property from the estate, as well as a third of your separate property, with the remaining 2/3s to get divided among your children equally.

If your children are from a previous relationship, your spouse will receive half of the community property, with the rest distributed among the children. The distribution of your separate property remains the same. If you have no children, your spouse gets all of the community property and half of the community property. The other half gets split between your parents.

If only one parent is alive, they receive a quarter of the separate property, while any siblings receive a quarter. If you are unmarried but have children, they receive and share all of the estate. For those with no family members on record, the state of Texas may be the ultimate recipient of the assets they leave behind at the time of their death.

How does an intestate estate impact your family?

When there isn’t a last will, your assets and accounts can wind up frozen for some time. That can leave your spouse and children in a precarious and stressful position. Especially if there is someone important in your life who isn’t a legal or biological family member, taking the time to create an estate plan protects the people you love as much as your legacy.

Beyond just a last will, you can also create power of attorney documents to empower people to act on your behalf, health care directives to guide decision-making when you’re incapacitated and even a trust to reduce tax liabilities and protect access to state aid programs, like Medicaid. The sooner and more carefully you create an estate plan, the better protected you and your loved ones will be.