Probate Law in Houston, TX
What Is a Probate Law?
A probate is a legal process that determines the validity and administration of a last will and testament. When an individual leaves behind assets, the court appoints an executor (if one is not named in the will). In either case, the appointed official collects all remaining assets, pays off any remaining liabilities, and disperses the remaining assets to beneficiaries listed in the will or to beneficiaries designated by the executor (if no will is present), all according to Houston, Texas probate law.
How Does Houston, Texas Probate Law and the Probate Process Work?
Locating the Will
The first step is determining whether a will even exists. In most cases, the decedent leaves clear direction regarding the location of the last will and testament or files one with a primary attorney. However, sometimes people have to go digging for one. In other cases, there is no will and the Houston court-appointed executor must handle all assets.
It is also possible that the deceased created a living trust instead. A living trust is a document that places all assets into a trust and that transfer to a designated trustee upon death. Living trusts do not require any probation or courts. For this reason, many parties elect to go this route for the sake of convenience and avoiding drawn-out Houston, TX court battles.
Most of the filings and hearings related to probate disputes in Houston may occur at the Harris County Civil Courthouse. A probate judge from this court can rule on other matters related to the estate as well, including guardianships or conservatorships.
Notifying the Court
Notifying the court to open the estate is the next step. The Houston, Texas probate law court clerk can handle this step, unless there is a named executor.
After the court receives notification, a scheduled hearing takes place. This officiates the executor appointee and grants him or her legal authority to operate on behalf of the last will and testament.
If there is no will and no designated executor, the court chooses the executor. Making this selection differs from state to state, but generally, the surviving spouse is first in line. After that, any adult children, parents, or siblings receive consideration.
The executor must identify the decedent’s remaining assets. To do this, she or he reviews any related banking or financial documents and any other personal documents that could lead them toward recovering assets. Some examples of documents to collect are insurance records, titles, stock portfolios, and tax returns or filings.
To freeze and later close accounts, the executor must notify any financial institutions with outstanding accounts of the individual’s death in Houston. If there are any physical valuables in the decedent’s property, it is not uncommon for the executor to collect these items to prevent theft or damage.
The executor then determines the valuation of each item of the estate. This can be a lengthy process depending on the ease of locating all assets, including real estate, stocks, bonds, etc. Notifying creditors is the next step.
Generally, the executor notifies creditors associated with the estate so they can make a claim if they have outstanding balances. Creditors have a specific time frame in which to file a claim, and this window can vary depending on state law.
The laws governing creditor claims in Texas are complex. But, generally a creditor can submit claims to an estate in Houston for up to four months. Texas Estates Code also says that a personal representative should notify creditors by mail and by publishing a notice in a local newspaper.
Squaring Away Final Payments
The executor pays any funeral expenses (unless the family covers them) and any debts or taxes from the estate. The executor determines which creditor claims are accurate. From there, the executor squares away any outstanding debts to clear the estate of all obligations before being dispersed according to the will.
Proceeding With the Court
After valuing all the decedent’s assets and paying all outstanding debts, the executor submits a report detailing all estate spending to the Houston, Texas courts. At this point, a judge reviews the materials. Assuming everything was done correctly, they render a decision to clear the executor to move forward with the final step.
Executing the Last Will and Testament
At this point, the executor disperses the assets to the designated beneficiaries laid out in the will. Depending on how detailed the will is, this could either be a simple process or it may divide the remaining family. A Houston probate law attorney can help you or a loved one avoid these costly mistakes and counsel you on the best course in the event of a family estate battle.
Local rules for probate courts in Harris County state that a local judge elected to a 2-year term may adjudicate the proceedings. An informal probate may only require filing an affidavit with the court and waiting for approval. For Houston estates with disputes or matters not expressed in a will, the following might be necessary:
- Filing the will, death certificate, and other documents with the court
- A complete inventory of the estate’s assets and liabilities
- Publication of a notice to creditors and paying legitimate debts
- Completing, filing, and paying taxes for the estate
- Creating accounts to distribute assets to beneficiaries
If there is no last will and testament, the executor assigns beneficiaries in accordance with Texas state laws. Generally speaking, the surviving spouse is first in line to receive any remaining assets. After that, the decedent’s children come next. Any surviving siblings would be next. From there, the executor works down through the surviving family based on their direct relation.
Is Probate Law Necessary?
No. There are alternatives to probating a will, but this really depends on the circumstances surrounding the decedent. For example, the deceased may have established a living trust that circumvents the probate process. The individual may have not owned any assets, thus simplifying the Texas process.
An estate in Houston worth less than $75,000 may not have to go through a formal probate process. Texas law gives personal representatives some options to streamline the closure of a small estate.
What Are the Differences Between a Living Trust and a Will?
Living trusts are a way to avoid probation. However, this is one of the primary differences between a living trust and a will. Another main difference is that a living trust is only as good as the assets therein. This means that if you pass away without funding the trust with your assets, it is practically worthless. On the other hand, you do not have to fund a will, as you merely choose where to transfer your assets upon your death.
Setting up where your assets go after you die is an important decision. This is why you should consult with a Houston probate law attorney to make the correct decision.
Work With an Experienced Local Probate Law Attorney in Houston, Texas
Probate law attorneys assist with valuing your total assets and can provide insight into what the best move would be for you. Are you in need of a Houston probate law attorney who can help you and preserve the future of your family? We can even help you connect with an attorney across Texas state lines.
Submit a request online or call us today at (866) 345-6784 to get in touch with an experienced probate law lawyer in your area!