John Brown’s Intestacy, or Singing the Texas Probate Code

On Old Olympus’ Towering Tops A Finn and German Viewed Some Hops.

Some Say Marry Money But My Brother Says Bad Business, My My.

Cranial Nerves
By Government [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I learned the above mnemonics in a human anatomy and physiology class about a thousand years ago. The first relates to the names of the cranial nerves, in order. The second relates to the functions of the cranial nerves: sensory, motor, or both.

The memory aids worked well for me on exams over the nervous system. That was back in the days when I could remember which of the three O’s is optic, which olfactory, which…the other one. And whether the trochlear nerve or the trigeminal comes first in Towering Tops. The catch is that if you list the nerves in the wrong order, you’ll assign the wrong functions too. At least that’s how I think it works. But that was in 1971. Do not take my word for it.

At this point, I need a mnemonic to remember the mnemonics.

When I was in paralegal school back in Aught Three, I wrote a mnemonic of my own. It explains intestate succession–who gets what when a Texan dies without leaving a valid will–as laid out in the Texas Probate Code. One of our instructors had warned my class that students usually considered probate the most difficult part of the course, so I thought a little extra help when exam time rolled around might be in order.

Composing the memory aid took the better part of an afternoon. It required that I not only observe restrictions imposed by rime and meter, but that I also strictly adhere to the provisions of the Code. There was no wiggle room. It had to be correct.

At the end of the day, I was pleased. Aside from a couple of rhythmic aberrations, all the lines scanned, the rime scheme was satisfactory, and the targeted provisions of the Code  were covered.

It was a pretty good song.

As a mnemonic, however, it lacked a lot. It was long and complicated. I could have completed an entire exam in the time it took me to sing (silently) down to the second chorus.

It was easier to just learn the Code.

In addition, I posted this little flash of creativity on the class bulletin board. My old biology classmates would have read it and applauded. My paralegal classmates looked at me funny.

But funny looks don’t bother me. I spent years in education. I’m used to them.

So at the risk of getting several more, I present a bit of law in verse.

Disclaimer: The content of the following composition was accurate as of November 1, 2003. The song does not reflect changes in the law since that date. Neither does it represent a legal opinion, nor is it intended to offer counsel or advice. Its appearance on this blog does not constitute practicing law without a license.


John Brown’s Intestacy

By Kathy Waller

(To be sung to the tune of John Brown’s Body, aka The Battle Hymn of the Republic).


John Brown died and went to heaven but forgot to make a will.
His intestate succession now the Probate Code will tell.
Was he married, was he single, do his kids sit ‘round the ingle?
Had he common prop. or sep.?

Glory, glory, Texas Probate!
Separate property Section 38!
Common property Section 45!
Make a will while you’re alive!


If John’s married and he leaves a wife, no kids, or kids they share,
Then 45(a)1 leaves wife all common prop. that’s there.
But if he has an extra kid, wife ends up with just half
And the kids share all the rest.

Glory, glory 45(b)!
Don’t omit Section 43!
By the cap or by the stirpes,
Wife shares it with the kids!


For separate prop., if he’s no wife, it goes to kids or grands.
If none of those, John’s parents halve the personal and lands.
If only mom or pop lives, the surviving one takes half.
John’s siblings share the rest.

Glory! Both John’s folks are deceased–
All his sibs will share the increase,
And if no siblings, 38(a)4 means
They’ll need a family tree.


If John has separate prop. and leaves a wife and kids or grands,
38(b)1 gives wife one-third of personal prop. at hand,
And a one-third interest just for life in houses and in lands.
Descendants take the rest.

Glory, glory 38(b)1!
It’s one-third/two-thirds division!
But if John leaves a wife but no kids,
Section 38(b)2 applies!

V. – VII.

John’s wife gets all his personal prop. and half the real estate.
The other half of real estate goes back to 38—
38(a), to be exact, and up the family tree,
Unless his gene pool’s defunct.

For if John Brown was an only child with parents absentee,
No brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, or cousins on the tree,
No grandparents or great-grandparents to grab a moiety,
His wife will get it all.

BUT if John Brown leaves this life with naught a soul to say, “Amen,”
The Probate Code’s escheat will neatly tie up all the ends:
The Lone Star State will step right up to be John’s kith and kin,
And Texas takes it all!

Glory, glory Texas Probate!
Slicing up poor John Brown’s estate!
Avoid the Legislature’s dictate:
Make a will while you’re alive!

Another fine mess…

Did you know that when you edit a monthly newsletter, you have to produce a newsletter every single month?

Well, you do.

You don’t publish an August issue and then just rest on your laurels.


In thirty days–fewer than that in February–another month rolls around, and you’re supposed to come up with something new. People expect it. They don’t want to read about last month.

Truly, there is no rest for the weary. Or for the wicked.
I am wicked.
I moan and whinge about the drudgery–Double, double toil and trouble–but once I start working, I also start having fun. I lose track of time. The latest issue missed my self-imposed deadline not just because the computer fell by the wayside, but because I kept tweaking: a link here, a comma there, delete this, insert that, bold this, italicize that, change black to red, red to black.
Eye of newt, toe of frog, wool of bat, tongue of dog…

 With fire burning and cauldron bubbling, and so many poisoned entrails, as well as, at my disposal, I didn’t want to call it quits. Once again, I stayed up later than late, but I wasn’t laboring. I was playing. Concocting a brand new potion. Elixir. Charm. Beguilement.

If you want the pure, unadulterated version of my writing process, there it is.

And in a couple of weeks, it’s back to the cauldron again.

This time, though, there’s potential for sanity.

For the past couple of months, the assistant editor and I have been running as fast as we could to stay in the same place. Before the next issue comes out, we’re going to meet, discuss goals, nail down a format. I’ll show her what I can about using WordPress. She’ll come up with more good ideas. I’ll write them down so I won’t forget.

After we confer, the whingeing could abate.

But it won’t.

Because, contrary to decades of experience, I think I can do everything in five minutes.

Because my brain kicks in–really–at the last minute.

Because I do my best work–really–between 10:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m.

Because I have these flashes of cock-eyed optimism that temporarily override my normally rational, pessimistic nature.

Because I like to whinge.

I mean, what do you think those Weird Sisters were doing, stirring that cauldron, waiting for Macbeth to wander in for a consultation? They were whingeing. It’s a good Scottish word, and they were Scottish Sisters, and, no matter how much pleasure they derived from their culinary endeavour, they’d been standing over a hot stove all night. Furthermore, quality frog toes aren’t easy to come by. What’s not to whinge about.

So expect no change. Proper prior planning may prevent weariness, but it won’t improve my character.

I’m wicked. And it’s comfortable. And I think it’s what I want to be.


All the news that’s fit to print

I spent the evening putting the finishing touches on a newsletter blog for the Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter.

My goal was to get it out by September 4th. Actually, my goal was to get it out by September 1st.

Unfortunately, a couple of other goals ran concurrently. I was revising a section of a manuscript to enter in a contest. I was writing a synopsis to go along with the revision. I was doing several other things as well. I can’t remember what.

It is now the wee hours of September 5th.

For most of the evening, something did not work: the computer, the Internet connection, the website. I don’t know which.

Just minutes ago, I sent an e-mail to the HoTXSinC officers explaining why the blog didn’t come out as promised. Then I accessed this blog and began a new post. So far, nothing has frozen. Nothing has grayed out. I haven’t had to log off or reboot. Things are going swimmingly.

I don’t know why. I do know that if I logged on to Hotshots!, the system would freeze. I also know it’s after 1:00 a.m.

I agreed to edit the newsletter a couple of months ago. One of the Sisters said she would help. She’s creative. The first time we discussed our collaboration, she rattled off a list of ideas. I took notes. I have a strong suspicion that she should be editing and I should be helping.

I have another strong suspicion that I should give this computer a good swift kick and go to bed. And that is what I shall do.

I’ll think about all this tomorrow.

After all, tomorrow is another day.*


*Technically, it’s already tomorrow, and consequently, the same day. But poetic license dictates that technicalities be ignored. It’s another day.