An interested party, such as a relative, can file an application for determination of heirship in Texas for the estate of a person who died without leaving a will. Once an application has been made, the court appoints an attorney, referred to as an attorney ad litem, to investigate the deceased's family and determine the heirs. The court then issues a determination based on the ad litem's findings.
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If a case appears simple -- no unknown heirs or attempts by surviving relatives to cover up part of the family -- the ad litem's job is to confirm the heirship application to the court. He verifies the information given and makes sure family members are accounted for. Even if a case is clear, the ad litem should lay out the facts for the judge. An ad litem must present a report to the court regarding the results of any investigation into heirship in Texas, and this report must include his conclusions about the deceased's heirs.
Document the Family Tree
An ad litem in Texas has more work if heirs are unknown, concealed or missing. He has to document the deceased's family tree using genealogical research methods, including public record searches and fact-finding conversations with the deceased's known relatives and friends. An ad litem is responsible for keeping a record of all heirship information he uncovers and including this information in his report to the judge. While he does not have to include conversations word-for-word, he must summarize the conversation for the judge.
Regardless of the circumstances, an ad litem in a Texas heirship proceeding is expected to fulfill minimum requirements. He must get copies of all case pleadings, the deceased's death certificate and any other official papers that could affect heirship, such as a divorce decree. The ad litem should also get the names and contact information of surviving family members and other people who might know heirship facts but won't benefit from the estate, such as the deceased's friends and neighbors.
The ad litem is expected to ask questions that may cause relatives discomfort, such as whether the deceased put a child up for adoption, and must present any misgivings he has to the judge in his report. For example, if the ad litem suspects the deceased put a child up for adoption but can't get family members to confirm, he must mention this in his report and provide facts to support the allegation. If an ad litem finds previously unknown heirs, and the heirs want him as legal representation, he may ask the court to assign another ad litem to the case to avoid a potential interest conflict.