The quick answer is yes, they can.

Texas recognizes what are called “family settlement agreements.”  A family settlement agreement will be enforced by a court even if the distribution of the assets under the agreement differ from the distribution of the assets under the will.  A family settlement agreement is an alternative method of administration in Texas that is a favorite of the law.

To be enforceable, the family settlement agreement must:

  1. be agreed to by all of the heirs and beneficiaries;
  2. provide that a purported will shall not be probated; and,
  3. provide for a plan of distribution of the estate to replace the one in the will.

Family settlement agreements may come about when the will does not treat the testator’s children equally but all of the children want to split the estate equally.  This happens when a parent and a child are estranged at the time of the execution of the will.  The family may want most of the estate to go to a less fortunate sibling who is not doing as well financially as the others.  There may also be tax reasons to enter into a family settlement agreement.

Family settlement agreements may also be used to settle will contest cases.