Texas Estate Laws on Disclaiming an Inheritance

by Beverly Bird

Some things in life – such as paying taxes – are unavoidable. Accepting an inheritance isn't one of these things. Under a Texas law known as the "relation-back doctrine," when someone names you as beneficiary in his will or trust, he's offering you property, nothing more. You don't have to accept it, but Texas has rules you must abide by if you want to refuse or disclaim it. After you do so, you can't change your mind.

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Procedure

In Texas, disclaimer of your inheritance must be in writing and the statement must be notarized. You then have to file it with the probate court so your refusal is a matter of record. If there's no will or no one has opened the estate yet, you can file your disclaimer with the county clerk where the decedent lived instead. You have to ensure that the executor of the estate receives a copy, either by hand-delivering it or sending it by certified or registered mail. The statement can only say that you're declining the offer; you can't waive it so the bequest goes to someone else of your choosing.

Timing

The timing involved with renouncing or disclaiming an inheritance is also subject to rules and regulations. You have nine months from the decedent's death, although your statement acts retroactively; it's effective as of the date of death. Most important, Texas does not allow you to accept the inheritance, then change your mind and give it back -- and legally, this may be a fine line. If the inheritance generates income, you can't accept the income but disclaim the asset itself. Therefore, you can't take any action to manage or control the property before you give it back.

Effect

Under Texas law, your inheritance reverts back to the decedent's estate when you disclaim it, just as if you had died before the decedent and were no longer able to accept the gift. The advantage of this is that your creditors have no claim to it. The bequest is never your property or asset, even if you wait nine months to disclaim it, because the disclaimer is retroactive. An exception exists for federal tax liens. If you owe the Internal Revenue Service, you generally cannot disclaim an inheritance because the IRS has a right to it. Who receives your bequest instead depends on local law and the terms of the decedent's will. If the decedent includes directions as to what should happen to the property if you renounce your inheritance, the will takes precedence over Texas law.

Trusts

Little difference exists if you inherit from a trust, rather than by the terms of a will. You can still disclaim the inheritance and the disclaimer serves the same purpose. Texas law treats your inheritance as though you predeceased the decedent, and it then passes to others according to the terms of the trust documents and state law.