Navigating Intestate Succession & Protecting Your Family’s Interests


Losing a loved one is emotionally challenging. This difficult time can bring legal complications when the person’s passing coincides with the absence of a will—or any other form of estate planning. In such situations, our office will guide you through the legal challenges that may surface when determining heirship. Over the past few months, we have discussed locating estranged beneficiaries when there is a will and the legal process of probating a will four or more years after someone’s passing. 

Today, we are going to examine what happens where there is no will. Though we will elaborate on them in a moment, this requires a basic understanding of what determination of heirship entails and how locating heirs can impact how the estate is administered. Lastly, we will also discuss attorneys’ various methods for identifying and locating estranged beneficiaries. 

Locating Heirs

In Texas, state laws govern who will inherit the deceased’s assets when a person passes away without a will. When people talk about determining heirship, this is one example of what they are referring to. Because there was no will, an executor was not designated by the person who passed. However, the court will appoint an administrator to oversee the estate, locate creditors, and eventually distribute the assets to the heirs. The previous blogs we linked above outlined the difference between dependent and independent administration. When someone passes away without a will, and there are estranged heirs, it will typically force the need for a dependent administration. This is because the court will safeguard the assets of the unknown or unlocated heirs. 

When we work with clients in this position, we approach the cases with sensitivity and diligence. The goal is to ensure that all heirs can claim their portion of the estate. To find them, this generally requires thorough research and investigation. For example, this could involve reaching out to extended family members or genealogists who can trace lineages. 

Challenges Connected to Estranged Beneficiaries

In some situations, a deceased person has little to no contact with their relatives or may be unaware of their existence. When it comes to distributing the deceased’s assets, Texas’s intestate laws prioritize spouses, children, parents, and siblings. Although distribution is significantly more straightforward when the heirs are known, that isn’t always the case. 

Lawyers may also publish notices in local newspapers (in print and online) to connect with the beneficiaries and their inheritance. Due to how digitized our world has become, extensive information is available through search engines, social media, and public record databases. In very complex cases, lawyers may hire private investigators who have experience locating missing persons or gathering other information that isn’t as easy to obtain. 

Speak with Compassionate & Dedicated Legal Counsel 

When you are dealing with the passing of a loved one, navigating the legal components of probate and intestate succession adds stress to an emotional situation. The Law Offices of Debbie J. Cunningham will provide you with guidance and support. We have significant experience in handling the determination of heirship, locating heirs, and addressing the challenges that come with estranged beneficiaries. To protect your family’s interests while ensuring the just distribution of assets per Texas law, contact our office today to set up a consultation. 

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Law Offices of Debbie J. Cunningham

Debbie Cunningham is an Irving attorney providing affordable estate planning to the Dallas/ Fort-Worth areas. She understands the steps you should take to protect yourself and your loved ones. Debbie is family-focused and wants to ensure her clients are fully informed on the options that are available for their families. Debbie’s own blended family has given her valuable insights into the complexities of family dynamics.

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