As probate lawyers, we often get asked about how heirship is determined. When a decedent dies intestate, their estate vests immediately in their heirs at law subject to the decedent’s debts and any court-ordered child support payments that are delinquent on the date of death. However, since third parties may be hesitant to take the word of the heirs due to the lack of documentation identifying the heirs or property they are entitled to, a determination of heirship, with or without a request for an estate administration, can be used.
Determining an heirs’ shares and interest in an estate
An application to determine heirship can be filed at any time after the decedent’s death and the four-year limitations period does not apply. It asks a court to determine and declare who are the decedent’s heirs as well as the heirs’ respective shares and interests in the decedent’s estate. A determination of heirship can be used when the decedent dies completely intestate owning or entitled to property in Texas, and there has been no administration or final disposition of assets. It can also be used when the decedent dies partially intestate, or when a trustee needs to determine heirs of a trust.
If an application to determine heirship is filed before the fourth anniversary of the date of death, it may include a request for the court to determine whether there is a need for administration of the decedent’s estate and for the appointment of an administrator. The administration will be dependent unless the heirs agree to independent administration. While the decedent’s heirs must be determined before the court will appoint an independent administrator, it is common practice to use a combined application (“Application for Determination of Heirship and for Letters of [Independent/Dependent] Administration”) or simultaneously file an Application to Determine Heirs and an Application for Administration.