In Texas, the most common way for a court to identify a decedent’s heirs if he or she dies without a will or without a validly created will is to conduct a “Judicial Declaration of Heirship.” The judicial declaration of heirship is a legal proceeding whereby a court makes a formal ruling or declaration that identifies all of a decedent’s heirs and their ownership rights to intestate property. An “intestate” is someone who dies without first creating a will. An intestate may also describe someone who attempted to create a will but failed to create a legally valid one. Texas courts also utilize the judicial declaration of heirship procedure when a testate dies with a valid will but fails to dispose of all of his or her property. Thus, if you were to die with a valid will but failed to account for all of your property, your heirs could request a judicial declaration of heirship hearing. In this case, under Texas law, you are actually a testate and intestate simultaneously since you died with a will but failed to validly dispose of all of your assets to your heirs and beneficiaries.
The judicial declaration of heirship is an alternative to the probate process. In some cases, a court may require this type of proceeding if more than four years passes from the date of a decedent’s death or the decedent’s will is not admitted to probate within four years of his or her death.