In previous installments in this series we discussed that a dependent and independent administrations are generally used when the deceased person’s estate exceeds some minimal thresholds for size or complexity, such as owing unpaid debts. We also discussed that a muniment of title can be used as a quicker and comparatively simple process to transfer property (usually real property, i.e. land) when the decedent had a valid will but the estate is simple enough to forego a full-blown administration. In this installment, we will look at a proceeding to declare heirship (sometimes referred to as an “declaration of heirship”).
Unlike a muniment of title, a declaration of heirship issued when a person dies (a “decedent”) without a will (or some other planning document). A declaration of heirship is authorized under Chapter 202 of the Texas Estates Code , and its general purpose is to determine (1) who the decedent’s heirs are and (2) what percentage of decedent’s property each heir will receive. In more complex estates, a declaration of heirship is sometimes used to identify heirs prior to opening a dependent or independent administration. However, in a simple estate (e.g. one with no debts), a declaration of heirship can be used by itself. When used by itself, the party obtains the court’s judgment identifying each heir and their respective percentage. The party then presents that judgment to anyone holding the decedent’s property in order to obtain their share of decedent’s property. In the case of real property, the judgment is filed in the county where the property is located and acts (in the place of a deed) to transfer the identified percentage of decedent’s land to the decedent’s heirs. As with a muniment of title this process allows the heirs to forgo the cost and expense of a full administration.
There are qualifications that must be met to successfully utilize a declaration of heirship. It is important to make that determination before an application gets filed. Otherwise, the application may not service its intended purpose or may be denied. In that case, the desired cost savings associated with a successful declaration of heirship will be lost. It is important to discuss all options with your attorney and determine which is correct for your circumstances.