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!

10 thoughts on “John Brown’s Intestacy, or Singing the Texas Probate Code

    1. It did take time, but when the Muse is upon us, what are we to do but write? Thank you, Sylvia. You’ve given me quite a boost this Monday morning.


  1. Pure, unadulterated paralegal genius, Kathy. It would work for me using the Riffle technique: ghost-sing until you get to the part you need for the question.

    To use a piece of grammar from a far-flung generation, I totally love this. Thank you so much.


    1. Well, you see, the song was so complicated that I had great difficulty learning it. Fortunately, I found probate the easiest part of the course rather than the hardest. That may be due, at least in part, to the study I put into squeezing the code into verse. I’m glad you like it. It helps to know not everyone is looking at me funny.


  2. Good gracious! I’m amazed you came up with that and also amazed you remembered it!

    I would have sat next to you and copied off you…if I’d ever taken a class where I needed to know probate code.


    1. It’s probably best not sit by me or to take a course requiring knowledge of the probate code. The truth is, I’d rather do anything than study, and that ditty is proof.


  3. I cannot even begin to imagine how you came up with this. I don’t think I possess that kind of creativity. I’ve certainly used mnemonics but would never have thought of making one up myself. I’ll have to share this with my daughter who took paralegal classes in TX. Probably will make perfect sense to her! You and your Muse are just so clever–and you make me smile!


    1. Thank you, Susan. Of course, you realize it’s a sign of a mind seriously out of balance.

      Where did your daughter take paralegal classes?


    1. When you return, we should get together and prepare a medley or a duet or something. Perhaps they’d let us perform at a HoTXSinC meeting. Perhaps not.


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