When a person passes on, many of their assets will have to go through probate. Understanding probate, or the process through which a court legally recognizes the death of a person and facilitates the distribution of their assets and the payment of their debts, is crucial to smart estate planning. A skilled estate planning attorney can help walk through this often complicated process.
How to Start the Texas Probate Process
Assuming an individual dies with a will, the executor in the will must file for probate. Generally in Texas, an executor has four years from the date of death to file, though the time frames vary in different local courts. If not, the estate will go through intestate succession, where close family members will receive assets according to predefined rules set out by the state. Simple estates can be probated within 6 months, but contested wills or complicated scenarios can take multiple years.
First, an application for probate is filed. Then, a notice of the probate application will be posted at the courthouse to alert anyone who may contest the will. If no contests are received in approximately two weeks, a hearing will begin. During this hearing, the decedent’s death will be recognized and a judge will validate the will and appoint an administrator or identify the executor.
After this, the executor will catalog the assets held by the decedent’s estate and prepare an inventory and identify debts. The executor will also notify beneficiaries of the estate, or, in the absence of a will, the court will determine the appropriate heirs. This can be a complicated process and may require notice and extensive testimony. The executor will also notify any creditors. In the event of disputes, courts will suggest mediation or hear conflicts. Finally, assets will be distributed.
Dependent v. Independent Administration
One probate has been filed, there are two types of administration processes, independent administration and dependent administration.
Independent administration is an easier process that accounts for over 80 percent of estates probated in Texas. A court will appoint an administrator who inventories assets and finds people indebted to the estate. After these lists are filed, the estate will be administered without a judge’s approval. An attorney can help you draft the language that will allow for an independent administration according to Texas law.
Dependent administration involves the court to a higher degree. A dependent administrator will get a probate judge’s approval for every action in a scenario where beneficiaries contest a will. The downside is that this type of process is more expensive and can cost thousands of dollars. Hiring a skilled estate planning attorney early in your estate planning process can help avoid unclear wills and complicated processes.
Contact a Houston Estate Planning Attorney
Probate can be a complex process, but experienced estate planning attorneys are here to help. The lawyers at McCulloch Miller, PLLC have extensive experience in Texas estate planning and other family law and financial matters. Contact our office at 713-936-9073 to schedule an initial consultation with an attorney on our team.