Legislature modifies process to seek unclaimed property on behalf of decedents

Sandra Reed

It is easy to see if the State of Texas is holding property that belongs to you, family members or friends. An individual can simply go to https://claimittexas.org and do a name search to find out if a potential claim exists. The process to submit a claim is governed by Texas Property Code §74.501, which can be made directly to the Texas Comptroller. If the state holds such property, simply click on “Claims,” complete the form and submit it to obtain the property. Thereafter, one can return to the sight and track the status of the claim.

Unfortunately, the provisions of the Texas Estates Code and those of the Texas Property Code have not matched up. This discrepancy has led to confusion, with instances resulting in claims, otherwise valid, not being collected. Under the Estates Code, if the state is holding money for a person who dies prior to filing a claim, the claimant on behalf of the decedent must file suit against the Comptroller in Travis County within a four-year deadline.

However, Senate Bill 1420 passed this legislative session and going into effect on September 1, 2019, amends the Estates Code to adopt the Property Code’s claims process, removing the requirement to file suit. Under the Property Code process, if the Comptroller finds a claim valid on behalf of a decedent, the Comptroller will distribute the property to the appropriate executor who holds current letters testamentary or to legal beneficiaries under a will filed for probate or filed as a muniment of title.

If the purported owner has died intestate (without a will), the Comptroller will distribute the property: (1) to the legal heirs who are entitled to inherit pursuant to Texas Estates Code §§ 201.001 and 201.002; (2) to those heirs who have been established by a court in an heirship; or (3) to the court-appointed administrator of the owner’s estate.

One caveat should be pointed out. House Bill 3598, which also goes into effect on September 1, 2019, modifies Property Code §74.501. The modified provision will allow a claim by an administrator on behalf of a decedent only if the claim is filed before the fourth anniversary of the property owner’s death.

Sandra W. Reed is an attorney with Katten & Benson, an Elder Law firm in Fort Worth. She lives in beautiful Somervell County, near Chalk Mountain.