Most Texans die without ever having made a will. Yet wills can often save time, money, and effort for your loved ones. You may be wondering, “is a will right for me, my family, and our situation?” Or, like many of us, perhaps your to-do list has included “MAKE A WILL” for quite some time. This post will examine the various reasons why you may want to make a will. Some of them may surprise you.
Wills Allow Texans to Choose Beneficiaries and Customize Inheritance Rights
First, we’ll address the most obvious reason to make a will in Texas. If you die without a will, your property will be divided and distributed to your natural heirs according to Texas laws of intestacy. In other words, without a will, your property will be divided according to strict rules. For example, Texas law requires that all children with shared parents receive an equal share of their parents’ estate, regardless of whether the child is extremely close or entirely estranged from the deceased parent. If you’d like to know more about inheritance in the absence of a will, please see our prior blog series on Determining of Heirs in Dallas and Other Texas Areas.
When you make a will, you throw the rules of intestacy out the window. A valid will allows the person who makes the will, called a testator, to decide which folks (or organizations) will receive their property. The people who receive your property under your will are called beneficiaries. You may also want to name contingent beneficiaries in your will. For example, your will could provide for your sister to receive your coin collection, but if she dies before you, then your friend would receive that same coin collection. Feel free to be creative! If you can think of a plan for distributing your property, then a will can likely accomplish that goal.
Wills Provide Texans with a Contingency Plan for Unexpected Property
You may be thinking, “I don’t see why I’d need a will, I’ll just distribute my property before I die.” In certain circumstances, this may be true. However, as with many things in life, even the best intentions go awry. You may forget to actually sign and notarize a deed or sign over a bank account. Or perhaps you will be too sick to follow through with your plans. A properly prepared will avoids these scenarios and allows you to distribute your property in the manner you choose. Please see our series on Nonprobate Property Transfers for more information on the distribution of property before death.
You may want a will, however, even if you already effectively distributed your entire estate. Hypothetically, let’s say you develop an airtight plan to distribute your property without a will, and you carefully follow every step of your plan. Then you suffer a terrible injury, but you die before you can collect on a legal claim against the person(s) responsible for your injury. That doesn’t mean your claim goes away! In fact, many Texas claims survive the injured person’s death, allowing your executor or administrator to seek compensation for your injury. Appropriately enough, these types of claims are called survival claims. Importantly, many legal claims survive a person’s death, apart from catastrophic injury claims like fatal vehicle collisions. Survival claims include all unresolved claims for bodily harm, regardless of whether that injury was related to your death—for example, a poorly monitored spill causes you to slip and break your hip, but you die of a heart attack before you can bring the legal claim for your broken hip. Further, many claims that are purely financial in nature count may be brought after death to benefit an estate.
If you die suddenly without a will, your automatic heirs—rather than your carefully chosen beneficiaries—would receive the proceeds of your survival claim. To avoid this scenario, you can add a provision to your will called a residuary clause, which provides for the distribution property you forgot you owned, along with property and legal claims you acquired after you made the will. We discuss residuary clauses in more detail in part three of this series.
Texas Wills Select a Person to Become Executor
After a Texas judge approves your will and admits the will to probate, the judge will also appoint an executor to manage your estate and carry out the terms of your will. Most often, the judge will appoint the person named as executor in the will itself. In contrast, if you die without a will, the judge will appoint an administrator to manage your estate. In certain circumstances, judges will choose and appoint local attorneys as administrators—an expensive result that Texans rarely wish for. But when you make a will, you get to determine a prioritized list of trusted people who will have legal priority to manage your estate. Perhaps you may have a close family member whom you’d never trust to manage your estate upon your death. The best way to avoid this scenario is making a will.
For more information on the role and duties of an executor, please see our blog series on Following Your Duties as an Executor in Texas.
Texas Wills Can Lead to Independent Administrations and Reduced Expenses
All Texas estates are subject to dependent administrations by default. In that type of administration, the probate court has oversight over the administrator’s management of the estate, and the administrator must ask the court for permission before doing almost anything involving the estate. This means lots of delays and expensive attorney bills.
In contrast, a properly created Texas will can facilitate an independent administration, where an independent executor can act freely with little oversight from the probate court. As you may expect, this leads to a significantly quicker, simpler, and less expensive estate administration.
In summary, wills serve several essential purposes. They allow Texans to choose exactly who receives they’re property, what property they receive, and how much of it they receive. When you make a will, you can tell the court to appoint your most trusted family member or friend as the executor of your estate. Further, wills provide for a less expensive, quicker, and easier administration of your estate. In our next post in this series, we’ll talk about the legal requirements for a will in Texas.
Our probate attorneys help clients prepare wills, submit those wills to probate, and if necessary invalidate a competing will in the DFW area and throughout Texas. Please call us for assistance if you are considering making or remaking your will. Our offices serve clients throughout Texas, including in Plano, Frisco, McKinney, Denton, Fort Worth, Garland, Irving, Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Nacogdoches, Lufkin, and Center.