When discussing Houston estate planning, there are likely to be many unfamiliar terms. Among these terms is the concept of “probate.” Probate is the part of the process by which assets are transferred after death, and specifically refers to the validation of a person’s will. However, the probate process is often lengthy and costly, and is also public.
To better conceptualize what probate is, it helps to have an understanding of the basics of Houston estate planning, starting with wills. Quite simply, a will is a document in which someone outlines how they want their property distributed upon their death. Those who pass away without a will are said to have died “intestate.” In such cases, state law will dictate how their property is passed on to their successors. Of course, the Texas intestate laws are generic and not customized to anyone’s individual needs. Thus, those who wish to maintain control over their assets typically create a will.
When someone with a will dies, that person’s will must be presented to the probate court within four years. If a will is not filed within that time, then the state’s intestacy laws will likely be used to distribute the decedent’s assets. However, if a will is timely presented, the probate court will officially acknowledge the person’s death, oversee payment of their remaining debts, and distribute their assets according to the terms of the will.