Realistically, it is not uncommon for a person to have had multiple marriages and children from one or more previous marriages. Some families contain non-biological children who were raised in the family but adopted at age 19 or older. Some individuals have children from outside of a marriage. Some have stepchildren or foster children who were raised like their own, but were never formally adopted. Some people never marry and do not children. Some families have devoted--but unmarried--partners. And there are many other even more unique circumstances.
The default statutory rules which would apply to your estate as a Lampasas County citizen and Texas resident are almost never exactly what you actually would want to happen. In some cases the law will leave someone you care about very deeply with nothing and no recourse--except for the charity of your relatives. For example, unmarried partners do not stand to inherit under the default rules, whether the relationship lasted for one year or fifty years. Stepchildren who were not formerly adopted will only inherit from their biological parents. Children from previous marriages or outside of a marriage can claim an entire 50% of their deceased parent’s estate; for example, if someone dies with a surviving spouse and eight children with that spouse, but one child from a previous marriage, the one child will receive 50% of the estate, the surviving spouse will receive 50%, and the children from within the marriage will receive 0%. These examples do not even explore the hassles of paternity tests, co-ownership of property by family members, rights of surviving spouses, lawsuits for partition, choosing an administrator for the estate, locating a long-lost relative, inheritance by disabled relatives or minors, and so on.
To be sure that you provide appropriately for all of your loved ones, there is nothing like estate planning. In particular, it is very important to have a will or other document that disposes of your estate. Not only does this usually save money for your heirs (both in attorney's fees AND state-mandated costs, a savings of hundreds of dollars or even thousands), it also helps eliminate arguments about family heirlooms, the decedent’s wishes, fairness of division of the estate, and “what daddy/mommy would have wanted.”
This blog post only applies to the laws of Texas. The post may or may not match your individual situation. Be careful not to treat it as specific legal advice, as it may not meet your individual needs. It may give you a solid basis for discussion with your own attorney. You should consult with your personal attorney before you take any action on this or any legal issue. Also, please be aware that laws change, so this column is valid only as of the date it was published. This communication does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader.