Probate

The death of a loved one is a time of great personal trauma, and the administration of affairs in the follow-up can be overwhelming. Our expert probate law attorneys, located in Fort Worth, each have decades of experience in handling Texas probates. They can relieve the burden on you by guiding you through the process.

What is Probate?

Probate is the process by which a Court recognizes a person's death and authorizes the administration of that person's estate. Many organizations (such as banks) require proof of probate before allowing family members or other beneficiaries to deal with the deceased person’s assets.

The probate process applies both when someone dies but leaves a Will, and when someone dies without leaving a Will. The procedures differ in each circumstance, however.

What is an Estate?

A person’s estate is the combination of all of their assets as at the time of their death. This includes cash, stocks, bonds, life insurance, real estate, retirement accounts, cars etc.

What is Intestacy?

Intestacy occurs when a person dies without leaving a valid Will. In these circumstances, Texas intestacy law sets out the rules regarding who may administer the estate, and who the beneficiaries will be.

What is a Beneficiary?

A beneficiary of an estate is a person to whom some or all of the estate shall be transferred during the probate process. A person’s Will sets out who their beneficiary or beneficiaries are going to be. If the person does not leave a Will then Texas intestacy law specifies who the beneficiaries will be, depending on their respective relationships to the deceased person (the “decedent”).

The Texas Probate Process

In simple terms, the Texas probate process involves:

  • If the decedent left a Will, an application is made to the Probate Court and the Will is proven either valid or invalid. The Will nominates a person or persons who will have the power to administer the estate.
  • If the decedent did not leave a Will, a relative of the decedent applies to the Probate Court for the authority to administer the estate.
  • That person who is given the power to administer the estate (the “executor”) then takes on a number of legal responsibilities.
  • The executor must gather or identify any property of the decedent.
  • The executor must pay any debts of the decedent.
  • The executor must then distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries, in accordance with the Will. In the case of intestacy, they must distribute the assets in accordance with Texas intestacy law.

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Your Options Regarding Texas Probate

Some assets can be dealt with in Texas without probate having been granted. For example, depending on the terms on which they were held, some real estate, bank accounts, annuities or life insurance fall into this category. If appropriate, avoiding an application for probate will save money for the beneficiaries.

If probate is necessary, there are a number of different probate applications which may be considered:

Independent Administration

Independent administration enables the executor to undertake many of his or her responsibilities independent of court supervision. This can speed up the process and reduce costs.

Dependent Administration

However, in some circumstances, dependent administration will be more suitable. This requires court supervision of each of the executor’s actions. It may, however, result in higher costs to the estate (and therefore less for the beneficiaries).

Muniment of Title

Muniment of Title is unique to Texas. In certain circumstances, particularly when dealing with real estate, it can offer a quicker and more cost effective solution. However, as it is so unique to Texas we find that many other attorneys do not understand the system and restrict us from using it. For example, when dealing with large banks, headquartered in New York, the bank’s in-house attorneys rarely accept Muniment of Title.

Do I Need a Probate Lawyer?

Texas probate law is complicated. It also imposes a number of obligations on executors of estates. If you are handling a Texas estate and inadvertently fail to meet one or more of your obligations, you may face significant legal consequences. Because of this, the local rules of most Texas probate courts require that a person applying for probate or applying to administer an estate without a Will must be represented by an attorney.

As outlined above, there are also a number of ways in which probate may be handled in Texas. The best approach for one estate may not be appropriate for another. Taking the wrong approach may cost the estate and delay the distribution of assets significantly.

Feeling overwhelmed by the probate process?

Probate is a complicated and stressful process, but you don't have to go through this alone. Stasio & Stasio can provide practical advice to enable you to make informed decisions every step of the way. For a confidential consultation or information on how our probate attorneys can assist you, contact us today.