A Texas probate law firm will help its clients settle their deceased loved one’s outstanding debts and distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries or heirs.
Additionally, firms with an in-depth knowledge of probate law in Texas and probate courts are utilized to protect a beneficiary’s (or creditors’) interest in a decedent’s estate. Of course, this simplifies what probate lawyers do, as Texas probate laws are complex.
If you have a specific question about Texas probate law, your best bet is to schedule a free consultation with a firm that lists this as a specialty. What follows is a general guide to the probate process in Texas and the answers to a few frequently asked questions.
Overview of the Texas Probate Process
The probate process may be necessary if a person with considerable assets dies without completing the estate planning process.
The probate process is lengthy and requires the assistance of a qualified probate attorney.
You also will need a probate attorney if you would like to contest a will or receive payment for a debt owed to you.
How Probate Works
When a person dies and leaves assets that have not been transferred to another person through a trust, joint ownership (with a right of survivorship), or direct payments to beneficiaries, these assets will be distributed through the probate administration process.
In addition, if the deceased dies with a drafted will, the executor must file for probate.
A probate attorney will guide you through the daunting process, which might take months or years to complete.
Steps to the Probate Process in Texas
Your head may spin as you look at the steps in the probate process. However, the probate process in Texas is more straightforward than in other states because of “independent administration.” Independent administration means estate executors can wrap up estates with little Texas probate court supervision. On the other hand, “dependent administration” refers to the type of probate where the court approves every sale or distribution of property and assets and every payment to creditors.
Here are the general steps to the probate process in Texas courts for someone who died with a drafted will.
1. Filing the Will and Application for Texas Probate
When someone dies with an established will, the will must be filed with the court in the deceased’s last county of residence. Along with the will, an application must be submitted that admits the will to probate and names the estate executor.
A 10-day (or more) waiting period follows this step. Others can challenge the will at this time. Then, the courts move forward to confirm the validity of the will.
2. Holding a Hearing with the County Probate Judge
During the probate court hearing, a probate judge will recognize the decedent’s death. In addition, the judge will confirm that the individual applying to be the executor is fit to serve and will verify that the court legally recognizes the will as valid.
At that time, the probate court judge may admit the will to probate and name the executor of the estate. The county clerk will then issue “letters testamentary” to the executor, which serve as notice that the executor has the authority to act as a personal representative on behalf of the estate.
3. Completing the Inventory, Appraisement, and List of Claims
The Texas probate process continues when the executor inventories, appraises, and sells the deceased person’s estate assets within 90 days of the hearing. The executor is also responsible for notifying beneficiaries of the will, posting a notice to interested creditors, taking care of unpaid debts (including medical bills), filing the decedent’s final federal tax return, and settling the estate.
4. Resolving Disputes Over Claims to the Estate
An estate cannot be settled until all disputes are resolved. Disputes may include disagreements over the appraisals of the estate assets. Sometimes, someone may come forward to contest the will or argue against a creditor’s claims to the estate assets. Still, at other times, an heir may feel that the estate administrator or executor has not fulfilled their fiduciary duty and may file a breach of fiduciary duty claim.
5. Estate Assets are Distributed to the Beneficiaries
Once the debts are paid, and disputes are resolved, the remaining assets are distributed to beneficiaries. Keep in mind that not all distributing assets pass through the probate process. Some assets seamlessly transfer to beneficiaries, including those in joint accounts with rights of survivorship or retirement accounts with designated beneficiaries. In addition, life insurance policies and real estate with transfer-on-death deeds are considered non-probate assets. These assets pass directly to the estate beneficiaries.
FAQs About Probate Law and Texas Probate Courts
We know this guide is an oversimplification of Texas probate law. In addition, this scenario assumes that the deceased person had a valid will. The probate court must determine the legal beneficiaries if no will was filed.
The entire probate process can be lengthy and overwhelming. However, the Texas State Law Library has an online guide to probate, which might be helpful. In addition, here are some answers to people’s frequently asked questions about probate and Texas law.
Do you have to go through probate in Texas?
Estates smaller than a certain threshold do not have to go through probate. Instead, a simplified process is used.
Also, some specific assets automatically transfer to the heirs without going through the probate process. Of course, the best way to avoid probate is to put your assets into a Living Trust. Reach out to an estate attorney for assistance setting up your Living Trust.
Do you need an attorney to probate a will in Texas?
The executor or administrator of an estate in Texas is required to be represented by a licensed lawyer. This is because the executor’s actions affect the interests of the beneficiaries and creditors.
There are many benefits to having a probate attorney. They will help you with the following tasks:
- Make all required appearances in front of the Texas probate judge
- File all required Texas probate applications with the court
- Catalog and appraise all estate assets so that a proper value can be established
- Prepare and send out notices to the creditors of the estate, which includes putting a notice in a local newspaper
- Make arguments during probate proceedings
How do I contest a will?
You may find yourself in a situation where you must contest a will. If this is the case, quickly reach out to a probate attorney – as there is a statute of limitations for contesting a will admitted into probate.
A will can be contested for the following reasons:
Lack of testamentary capacity: The person who made the will didn’t understand what was happening.
Undue influence: Someone was inappropriately influencing the person creating the will.
Due execution: You may be able to contest the will if it was not properly witnessed or signed.
Other issues: There may be other reasons you wish to contest a will. After all, some estates are complicated, and the text of the will may only cover some scenarios.
How can you avoid probate in Texas?
The best way to avoid probate in Texas and ensure your estate’s assets go to your selected beneficiaries is to work with an estate planning attorney to help you set up a living trust.
We Can Help You Through the Texas Probate Process
Are you looking for a probate lawyer in San Antonio? The attorneys at Wilson Brown, PLLC, have years of experience helping individuals or creditors navigate Texas probate law. If you are facing a probate challenge, our attorneys will help you sort through the details – no matter how complex the dispute is.
Wilson Brown can assist you with the following:
- Estate administration
- Will drafting and estate planning
- Guardianship documents
- Probate litigation
In addition, our Texas estate planning attorneys can help you create a plan to protect your estate’s assets. Schedule an appointment today to complete the estate planning process.