Wills In Action

In parts 1 and 2 of this series we examined the prevalence of Wills in the US as well as how Wills function. However, because each state has its own legal system, we are forced to use generalizations when discussing the topic. Today we finish off our series on Wills by looking at how they work specifically in Texas, then we will close this series with some examples of famous people who died intestate (without a Will).

Wills In Texas

In examining the rules around creating a Will in Texas, there are several basic requirements for a Will to be valid. These include:

  • Age 18 (unless in the military or married)
  • Capacity, which means you are of sound mind
  • Signed and witnessed by at least two people
  • At least 1 beneficiary

Texas does allow holographic, or handwritten Wills. Nonetheless, it is still best to hire an attorney to draft your Will. You can read more about why you may want to avoid a holographic Will in part 2 of our series.

Texas Intestacy

All states have rules which govern the process for distributing the property of someone who has passed away without a Will in place. This is called intestate succession. Texas has different rules based on different family situations but generally tries to divide the decedent’s (the person who passed away) property amongst the spouse, children, and/or parents first. If the decedent had no close family, the state then attempts to find relatives in the extended family. If any are found, the estate is simply divided equally between them. As a last resort, the state will become the beneficiary of the decedent’s estate.

Texas is a Community Property State

One of the biggest determinations of succession in Texas is the legal doctrine known as community property. Texas is one of nine US states to follow this doctrine. The idea of community property originates from Spain and the observing states tend to be former Spanish possessions. The idea of community property holds that both spouses bring equal contributions to the marriage and their property should be equally divided.

If you are married, generally all assets acquired during the marriage are half-owned by each spouse. This means that you can’t bequeath full ownership of any community asset (a home held as community property for example) to anyone you wish as you are only a 50% owner. While most people love their spouses and usually leave everything to them, it is worth noting that it is highly unlikely that one can completely disinherit a spouse in a Will.

Celebrity Estate Planning Mistakes

Instead of continuing to dwell on all of the reasons to obtain a Will and to have a good basic estate plan in place, I am ending this series with some cautionary tales of celebrities who died and left an estate planning mess for their heirs.

Prince: Never Made a Will

Musical icon Prince died in 2016 without a Will. His estate, worth in the hundreds of millions, has still not been settled in 2021. Because no executor was appointed, a Judge is in charge of dividing his estate between Prince’s children. This process is being complicated by other potential heirs attempting to claim a piece of the estate, an issue that a Will could have avoided by naming the desired beneficiaries and clearing up any confusion. The long and complicated probate process will likely end up costing millions in legal and consulting fees, making Prince’s omission to create a Will a drawn-out, frustrating, and costly process for his family. Don’t leave your family standing alone in a world so cold by not creating a Will!

Michael Crichton: Didn’t Update His Will

Author Michael Crichton, who wrote many 90’s hits including Jurassic Park, passed away in 2008. In the movie, the CEO of Jurassic Park famously says they “spared no expense” in providing for the safety of park visitors. The T-rex and multiple Velociraptors that subsequently chased after the main characters proved that assertion to be false. Similarly, Michael Crichton had a Will but spared the expense of updating it to provide for future heirs. When he passed away, his wife was pregnant and had to go to court to fight for the newborn to be included as an heir to his estate. An outdated Will can cause nearly as much headache as none at all. Jeff Goldblum’s character suggested that “Life uh… finds a way”, and when life finds a way to change your family situation, you need to update your Will.

Florence Griffith Joyner: Will Could Not Be Found

Olympic Medalist Flo Jo had a Will, but it could not be found after her death. Her family was forced to go through the intestate probate process as if she did not have a Will at all. This shows the importance of keeping critical documents in a safe place and giving instructions to a trusted person on how to access them. It is also a good idea to have a copy of your Will on file with your financial planner or attorney. Don’t miss the gold medal of estate planning by not providing a method for your Will to be safeguarded and accessible.

Estate planning, including having a Will, is different in each state. In looking at Texas, there are some very basic requirements, a default intestacy policy for those with no Will, and a unique legal doctrine of Community Property. Other states will have their own requirements and quirks.  Whether you live in Texas or in some other state, be sure to work with your attorney and financial planner to get the guidance that you need. Good Estate Planning is a must for everyone, from average Joe to famous musicians, authors, and athletes. 

I hope these articles have proved to be helpful and instructional. If you have questions or want to know more, click on the link below to schedule a call with Steve or Galen to get started.

Not everything you own passes by your Will. An account with a designated beneficiary, such as an IRA or 401k account, passes separately from your will. Click here to read about Inherited IRAs.

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