Articles Posted in Probate

The Texas probate process is not one to be taken lightly; every procedural step must be done correctly in order to make sure nothing falls through the cracks, and no stone is left unturned. While the process can be lengthy, we at McCulloch & Miller are experts in navigating the probate courts and are pleased to offer our clients everything they need to make sure the process goes as smoothly as possible.

When an individual dies in Texas, that person’s assets and debts get distributed to his or her loved ones, typically in accordance with his or her will or other estate documents. Before this can happen, however, the probate court has to review the person’s will, notify other possible beneficiaries, and decide that the will meets the necessary requirements for the assets to be distributed.

If your loved one has recently passed away and you are looking to begin the probate process, the first thing you need to do is acquire a death certificate on behalf of your loved one. Filing the death certificate with the probate court allows the court to be sure that the individual has died and to make that certificate becomes part of the official court record.

In the past, our blog has covered the complexities of the probate process. Just as we help our clients focus on getting through probate litigation as efficiently as possible, we also help our clients think about how to avoid the process altogether. Many of our clients, in fact, prefer to find a way to transfer their assets directly to their loved ones upon their death instead of drawing out the process through the probate courts. With the right attorney on retainer, you can learn how to avoid probate and make things as easy as possible for your beneficiaries.

There are several key strategies to think about when deciding whether avoiding probate might be right for you:

Joint ownership: if you own property in Texas, consider co-owning the property with an individual that you would like to inherit the land after your death. By structuring the co-ownership correctly, you can arrange for the property to be directly passed to the second individual when you are gone.

At McCulloch & Miller, we have 35 years of experience in Texas probate law, which gives us a unique perspective on estate planning and on the probate process. Over the years, our clients have come to us with their questions, big and small, because they trust that we will deliver the answers and results they need. Here are some of our most frequently asked questions in the field of probate:

What is probate?

The probate process is when a court receives, reviews, and accepts a decedent’s will, then distributes the decedent’s assets to his or her beneficiaries.

Is probate required in Texas?

The short answer is yes; probate is required under certain circumstances. Under the Texas Estates Code, a will is not sufficient to transfer title to a beneficiary without having gone through the probate process. However, as we have discussed extensively on our blog, there are ways to avoid probate and minimize the time, cost, and toll that the probate process can take on you and your family.

How long does probate take?

Probate can take anywhere from a few months to a couple of years. The timing depends on a variety of factors, including the size of the estate, the presence or absence of disputes about who gets which property, and the backlog of the probate court.

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The probate process involves many logistical hurdles that often require time and money, and it can be frustrating for those individuals a decedent leaves behind. It is important to recognize, however, that not all assets must go through probate – in fact, there are some assets that are automatically exempt from the process altogether. At McCulloch & Miller, we specialize in separating these two kinds of assets so that families do not have to unnecessarily go through a process that will drain their resources during an already difficult time.

Probate Assets

Put simply, probate assets are those that are governed by the terms of a will. All real property and assets are subject to probate unless they fall under a category that allows them to be exempt from the process. So, for example, if a decedent had a home, a piece of land, or money kept in a non-exempt bank account, those assets will have to go through probate. The probate court learns of the individual’s death, makes sure all potential beneficiaries have received notice of the death, then divides the assets accordingly. This process can take anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years.

Non-Probate Assets

The following assets avoid probate automatically, just by the nature of the way they are organized:

  • Trust assets: in the past, we have reviewed different kinds of trusts on our blog, and exempting assets from probate is another benefit to putting money or property into a trust.
  • Property owned in joint tenancy with a right of survivorship: when a piece of property is owned jointly with a right of survivorship, it means that multiple individuals own the property together and that when one person dies, the others automatically own the property. This kind of property, therefore, avoids any kind of probate litigation.
  • Insurance policies: life insurance policies, for example, allow a decedent to pass proceeds to a beneficiary as soon as that person dies.
  • Transfer-on-death accounts: certain kinds of bank accounts can be designated to transfer to another person the moment the account owner dies. These kinds of accounts, however, have to be designated as “transfer-on-death” before the owner dies.

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As a general rule, a decedent’s assets in Texas must go through the probate process in order for those assets to pass on to the person’s beneficiaries. Because this process can be daunting and time-consuming, clients often come to us for help in figuring out how to avoid probate altogether. By organizing assets and planning ahead, there are ways to prioritize efficiency in passing your estate to your loved ones after your death.


Real property (land, a home, or a building), is typically subject to probate. However, by owning property with another individual, you can automatically pass that property onto the other individual when you die. The property must be owned with the “right of survivorship,” meaning whoever else owns the property upon the decedent’s death has the right to continue owning it if and when they survive another owner.

A “transfer-on-death” deed is another way to pass along real property. This kind of deed must be recorded and processed before the property owner’s death. It essentially means that as soon as a person dies, the property automatically transfers to the beneficiary without any timely litigation.

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For many decedents, the probate process involves a probate court judge reviewing that person’s will, ensuring that the will is valid, and then distributing the person’s assets to his or her beneficiaries. At times, however, the probate court has to decide how to proceed when there is no will in place. Even when there is no will, the decedent’s assets and debts must be somehow distributed; in Texas, there are certain rules that dictate how this process plays out.

Rules of Intestate Succession

You may have heard the term “intestate succession” either on our blog or otherwise. This term refers to the distribution of assets to a decedent’s loved ones according to the state’s rules. Essentially, for a person that dies without a will, there are rules and regulations in place that say where that person’s money, property, and debts will go.

If the decedent has a spouse, that spouse will be first in line to inherit the decedent’s estate. If there are no children or parents, the spouse will, in fact, inherit the entire estate. If, however, the decedent and spouse had children together, the spouse receives 1/3 of the decedent’s personal property and the right to their physical property, while the children inherit everything else.

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In the past, our blog has focused on the probate process and the many different implications for decedents, family, and friends. As we have emphasized, the probate process is complex, and it involves many actors as well as a detailed procedure that can take anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years to play out.

When getting to know our clients and their individual needs, we often end up recommending that people try to avoid the probate process altogether – that is, we encourage our clients to think about how to organize their assets and debts in a way that makes them exempt from having to be reviewed by a probate court at all. Because it is so common for a person’s estate to go through probate, it is also important to understand why avoiding probate might be worth considering.

Reasons to Consider Bypassing Probate

First of all, the probate process happens through the probate courts, so everything that goes on becomes part of the public record. If your estate or your family dynamics involve information you would rather keep confidential, avoiding probate might be right for you.

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In Texas, the probate process can be overwhelming for beneficiaries and those involved in distributing a decedent’s estate. The good news, however, is that for those whose assets are below a certain amount, there is a simplified probate process available. This process is shorter and more efficient, but it still comes with several important procedural steps that cannot be avoided.

Who Qualifies for the Simplified Probate Process?

There are three basic requirements to qualify for the simplified probate process: the decedent must not have left behind a will, at least 30 days must have passed since the individual’s passing, and the value of all property belonging to the decedent must not exceed $75,000. This $75,000 amount does not include certain exempt property, which is more closely defined in the state statute laying out this procedure.

What Does the Simplified Probate Process Entail?

As the name suggests, this process is less costly and involved, but it still has certain important steps that must be taken. First, inheritors must fill out a form called a “small estate affidavit.” This form essentially tells the court what property and debts are involved in the decedent’s estate, and it lists the people that stand to benefit from the estate’s distribution.

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We have covered the definition of the probate process on our blog in the past, which is vital information for those developing their estate plans. Also relevant, however, is the specific procedure for probate in the state of Texas since probate works differently in each state and can have a unique set of rules and regulations. At McCulloch & Miller, we specialize in Texas law and are recognized as experts in the field of the probate process in Texas.

What is Involved in Probate in Texas?

In Texas, there are several steps that initiate the probate process once an individual has died. First, the person’s representative files a petition with the court, and beneficiaries, as well as creditors, receive notice that the probate process has begun. Representatives pay off debts and taxes, then distribute the remaining assets with the help of a probate court.

There are certain rules specific to Texas that apply to the probate process, and that might not apply in other states. For example, a decedent’s representative has four years from the date of death to file for probate. If four years come and go, and the representative has failed to file, the court will divide the decedent’s assets based on certain laws of intestacy, meaning rules that dictate which family members or loved ones receive a decedent’s assets when there is no valid will.

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Many beneficiaries to a person’s will find themselves becoming familiar with the probate process once they try to access the funds that their loved one has left behind. It can be important to understand the probate process because it is often the vehicle through which a decedent’s assets are passed on, but it can be complicated and, at times, litigious. At McCulloch & Miller, we are committed to making sure all of our clients understand the probate process so that they can know what will happen with their assets (or the assets of their loved ones) in the future.

The Definition of Probate

Probate is the process of managing and administering the property, money, stocks, or other assets in a decedent’s estate. When a person leaves behind a will and asks that their estate be passed along to their named beneficiaries, that estate often must be reviewed by a probate court before the beneficiaries can access the assets. Typically, those involved in probate are the judge, the personal representative of the decedent, and those entitled to receive the decedent’s assets.

What Does Probate Involve?

The first step in the probate process is for the court to receive a petition for probate, indicating that someone has died and that their assets need dividing. At that point, the court mails notice to all named beneficiaries to let them know that the probate process has begun.

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