Probate, trust, guardianship and inheritance litigation
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Heirship Proceedings in Texas Probate

An heirship proceeding in Texas probate is a court proceeding to determine a decedent’s heirs.  A proceeding to determine heirship is authorized when:

  1. a person dies intestate owning or entitled to property in this state and there has been no administration in this state of the person’s estate;
  2. there has been a will probated in this state or elsewhere or an administration in this state of a decedent’s estate, but: (A)  property in this state was omitted from the will or administration; or (B)  no final disposition of property in this state has been made in the administration; or
  3. it is necessary for the trustee of a trust holding assets for the benefit of a decedent to determine the heirs of the decedent.

Who Can File an Heirship Proceeding?

Any heir that claims to be the owner of all or part of the decedent’s estate can file an heirship proceeding.  Other persons that can file include:

  • the personal representative
  • a creditor
  • a guardian
  • a party seeking appointment as an independent administrator
  • the trustee of a trust holding assets for the benefit of a decedent

What Is The Deadline To File A Texas Heirship Proceeding?

If there was a prior probate or transfer of decedent’s real estate to a third party, the deadline to file an heirship proceeding is four years from decedent’s death.  If there was no prior probate or property transfer, there is no time limit.

The deadlines to file an heirship proceeding are discussed by the Texas Fourth Court of Appeals in Estate of Ripley.

In Ripley, decedent died in 2008.  Ten years later, in 2018, two siblings, Mary and Robert, filed an application to determine heirship.  The application stated that there had been no probate administration and sought to have Mary, Robert, and their brother John declared to be decedent’s heirs of their deceased mother’s estate.

John objected to the heirship application.  John argued that the time for filing the application had passed, because more than four years had passed since decedent’s death.

The Texas probate court granted the application and declared that the three siblings were decedent’s heirs.  John appealed the decision.

The Time Limits in the Texas Estates Code

The Texas Estates Code section 202.0025 states that:

Notwithstanding Section 16.051, Civil Practice and Remedies Code, a proceeding to declare heirship of a decedent may be brought at any time after the decedent’s death.

Section 16.051 is the general four year statute of limitations and states:

Every action for which there is no express limitations period, except an action for the recovery of real property, must be brought not later than four years after the day the cause of action accrues.

Time Limits From the Texas Courts

The Texas Supreme Court has determined that some heirship proceedings in Texas probate have to be started within four years of the decedent’s death. The Ripley court summarized this court-created rule:

When an heirship claim is brought after an administration of the decedent’s estate or a conveyance of the decedent’s property to a third party, courts have applied the four-year residual limitations period of Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code section 16.051.

The Ripley court followed this rule, concluding that no time limit exists for starting a heirship proceeding if there wasn’t a prior probate estate for the decedent, and no transfer of decedent’s real estate to a third party.  Therefore, file an heirship proceeding within four years of decedent’s death if there was a prior probate or property transfer.  Otherwise, you do not have this strict deadline.



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