How Property Distributed When Someone Dies Without A Will

The Unintended Consequences of Not Having A Will: Deadbeat Dad Claims Part of Deceased Son’s Estate

by Rania Combs

While I was in Houston over the Holidays, I read an article in the Houston Chronicle that illustrates the unintended consequences of not having a will.

It was about a man named Timothy Cole, whose father had not been a part of his life since he was seven years old. Timothy Cole died in the Texas Prison System. He had been convicted of a rape he didn’t commit. Despite the fact that the actual rapist confessed 1995, and the victim admitted that she mistakenly identified him, he remained in prison until 1999, when he died at the age of 39 of an asthma attack.

Convinced of his innocence, Timothy Cole’s mother and siblings, through the Innocence Project of Texas worked tirelessly to clear his name. On February 6, 2009, he was posthumously cleared of any wrongdoing and his record was expunged.

As compensation for his wrongful imprisonment, his estate was awarded over $1 million. That’s when Timothy Cole’s deadbeat dad reappeared. You see, it appears that Timothy Cole did not have a will, which means that his estate will pass according to the Texas intestacy statutes.

According to these intestacy rules, if a single person dies without a will in Texas, his estate will pass equally to his parents if both are living, as in this case. So Timothy Cole’s dad, despite having not been a part of his son’s life for 32 years, stands to inherit more than half a million dollars from his estate. I doubt Timothy Cole would have wanted that.

You can read “Poster Child of a Deadbeat Dad” by following the link.

About Rania

Rania graduated magna cum laude from South Texas College of Law Houston and is the founder of Rania Combs Law, PLLC. She has been licensed to practice law since 1994 and enjoys helping clients in Texas and North Carolina create estate plans that give them peace of mind.

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  1. Estate Planning Reading « The Law Office of David McDaniel, LLC

    January 10, 2012 at 5:06pm

    […] The Unintended Consequences of Not Having a Will: When I read this story, I was mortified.  A man, wrongly convicted of rape, died while in prison.  He was posthumously exonerated, and, as a result, his estate was awarded a million dollar judgment.  The man’s father, who had been absent for basically his entire life, showed up in time to claim his intestate share of the man’s estate, nearly half a million dollars. There seems little doubt that, if the man had executed a will, his father would not have been part of it. […]

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  3. Disclaiming an inheritance – Texas Wills and Trusts Online

    September 12, 2012 at 11:51am

    […] January, I wrote about a deadbeat dad who claimed part of his deceased son’s estate, even though he had not been part of his son’s life for more than thirty years. The potential of […]

  4. AMY

    November 14, 2014 at 3:18am

    Hello, I am going through this same situation myself, and would love to know what happened in this case. Was the deadbeat dad (awfully) rewarded half of his son’s money? I have an ex-husband who hasn’t been a part of my son’s life in over 27 years. My son has passed on without a will and under intestate laws my ex-husband is entitled to half of the money left by my son’s job. I know for a fact that my son would never want the deadbeat to obtain a cent of his hard earned money and would like it to come and help me out during hard times. But the courts say that in order for me to get full administration of my son’s estate, the deadbeat father of his has to sign off on it. And of course after not raising him, supporting him, or calling him in 27 years he popped up again wanting half of what is already a small amount of money to claim (when also he doesn’t really need it as I do, he runs his own company and I am retired living off of a small social security check).

    1. Rania Combs

      November 14, 2014 at 7:12pm

      Thank you for your comment, Amy. Please accept my condolences for the loss of your son.

      The last I heard about the case, a judge had issued an order directing that the estate be split between Tim Cole’s father and mother. When I checked today, I read something that suggested the order may have been suspended pending the review of a Will that Tim Cole created while in the Army; however, I did not find any information about how the case was resolved.