Inheritance laws vary by state, but all govern the rights of a deceased person’s surviving family members and associates to inherit property. Most people with substantial assets utilize estate planning to ensure all of their property is distributed as they wished. However, some states have laws in place that subvert the last wishes of the deceased even when written into a legally binding last will and testament.
In some cases, surviving spouses, children, or grandchildren have a right to claim an inheritance. Whether this right is automatically conferred to surviving family members varies depending on whether states follow common law or community property approaches to inheritance. Read on to find out what Texas residents need to know.
Texas Is a Community Property State
Texas is a community property state, which affects its inheritance laws, especially as they pertain to spousal inheritance. Community property can be acquired by either spouse, and it includes the personal income derived from work, property purchased during the marriage, and separate property given by the spouse to the community. Texas residents can get more information about how community property laws will affect their inheritance from a lawyer.
It’s relevant to note here that even in community property states, spouses may retain separate property interests. Inheritances, gifts, and property acquired before marriage are not considered community property. Similarly, spouses can also agree to keep some types of property separate.
How Community Property Is Divided Upon Death
Since each spouse in a marriage owns a half interest in the marital property, one or both of them can dispose of their shares of community property in whatever way they wish, meaning they can have wills drawn up that give the property to someone other than a surviving spouse. However, the right to dispose of community property as desired only applies to the half interest owned by the deceased. Even if he or she leaves everything to a child instead of a spouse, the spouse still has a right to keep or dispose of the other half.
In some cases, the provisions in prenuptial agreements affect one or both spouses’ rights to distribute property. However, separate property always belongs to the individual who acquired it. He or she can leave it to anyone in a will.
Inheritance Rights of Children
Unlike spouses, children don’t have legally protected rights to inherit their deceased parents’ property. If a parent leaves nothing to his or her children in a will, there’s little they can do. However, the law can protect children when unintentional omissions occur.
Parents who do not wish to leave anything to their children should state that the omission is intentional in their wills by disinheriting them. The law typically presumes omissions are accidental if there is no clear indication to the contrary, especially if the affected children were born after the parent created the will.
Inheritance Rights of Grandchildren
In most cases, grandchildren do not have a legal right to inherit their grandparents’ property. However, some states offer grandchildren whose parents have passed away a statutory right to whatever inherited property would have gone to the deceased parent. Again, it’s always better to include express statements of intent to disinherit grandchildren if desired.
Inheritance law can be complicated. The best way to sort out all the details is to find a lawyer who can explain the relevant state laws and help the client determine his or her best course of action.