Under Texas law, at least two circumstances exist in which you may be required to prove your relationship to a decedent. Both involve a relative dying without a will and pave the way for you to take ownership of his property as his heir. Heirs are not the same as beneficiaries. A beneficiary is someone named in a decedent's will to inherit from him. An heir is related to the decedent and inherits by virtue of that relationship when there is no will. Therefore, if you're not related to the decedent, you can't prove you're an heir.
Affidavit of Heirship
Identify two individuals who knew your relative for a considerable period of time. They must be “disinterested,” which means they’re not related to the decedent and cannot inherit from him.
Download two affidavits of heirship, either from a legal supply website or the website of the Texas government. If you don’t have access to the Internet, you can visit the probate court in any Texas county and request forms.
Ask each individual to complete an affidavit of heirship. They must state they knew the decedent and for how long. They must list all members of the decedent’s family, including you, and attest you're related.
File the affidavits with the county clerk in the county where the decedent’s property is located. If he left only real estate and no debts, other than mortgages against the property, filing affidavits of heirship allows the county clerk to transfer ownership of the property into the names of one or more heirs.
Application to Determine Heirship
Prepare an application to determine heirship if your relative's estate involves multiple assets. It is available from legal websites and the probate courts in all Texas counties. The application will ask you to identify the decedent and when he died. You’ll have to list all his property as well as all other heirs in addition to yourself. Some counties may require you to include affidavits of heirship from two individuals who knew your relative.
Ask all your relative's heirs to sign the application. Alternatively, you can contact the county sheriff or a private process server to personally serve each of them with copies. If you suspect your relative had any heirs of whom you are unaware, some counties also require you post notice of the application at the courthouse and in the newspaper.
File your application with the probate court in the county where your relative resided when he died. If you used the sheriff or a process server for service, they will file proof with the court when they’ve accomplished it.
Gather proof of your relationship to the decedent. This would commonly include your birth certificate, or several birth certificates of relatives that clearly link you to the decedent. You can also use a family Bible if it includes a family tree or genealogies constructed from information gathered on the Internet. Even if you filed affidavits of heirship, the court will not accept these alone as proof of your heirship.
Meet with an attorney ad litem appointed by the court. A judge will assign one to investigate and confirm the information included in your application after he reviews it. The attorney will review the proof of your relationship to your relative and make a report to the court.
If you file an application to determine heirship and the attorney ad litem confirms your relationship to the decedent, the court will schedule a hearing. At the hearing, the judge will issue an order determining your relative’s heirs based on the attorney ad litem’s investigation and report. The court will also determine which heirs receive your relative’s property and in what percentages.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.