Do You Understand The Texas Probate Process?

The probate process is often a necessary step in the administration of an estate in Texas.

If not, you're definitely not alone. Probate - an often-necessary part of handling a deceased loved one's estate plan - can be confusing to those without intimate knowledge of how it works. Having a basic understanding of the process, however, can make it easier to handle in the midst of the grief inherent with losing someone you care about.

What is probate?

The best place to start in any discussion about the Texas probate process is with a general definition of what probate actually is. In short, probate is the legal construct necessary to wind up a person's affairs following his or her death. Probate can help identify a decedent's assets and liabilities, pay U.S. estate taxes and other debts, and carry out the person's last wishes (including the distribution of property). In Texas, the probate process is handled in the Probate Court system and, as of January 1, 2014, is governed by the Texas Estates Code.

Probate can be more or less in-depth depending on a number of factors, including:

  • The size and complexity of the person's estate (i.e. if she has assets in several states, owns shares in a variety of corporations, has many heirs or is worth millions, the administration of that estate could involve producing inventories and performing a detailed accounting of assets, and will be more complicated than that required for someone with a modest estate who has only a few heirs)
  • Tax consequences flowing from the administration of the estate, including paying federal estate taxes and filing estate/inheritance tax returns with appropriate agencies, and planning for possible taxes that could arise from the paying of insurance policies or other dividends outside of the normal probate process
  • Whether there is a need to clear title to any property left by the decedent
  • If there are outstanding debts that need to be paid from the estate prior to property being distributed to heirs

How long does probate take?

Another common question concerning Texas probate is how long it takes to "wind up" an estate. Unfortunately, there is no boilerplate answer to that question. Just as the unique circumstances of a person's estate will determine the complexity of the probate process, the length of the process is also dependent upon a number of factors, including:

  • Size of the estate
  • Complexity of the estate plan itself
  • Whether any heirs choose to challenge provisions of the decedent's estate plan
  • Difficulty identifying assets and liabilities of the estate
  • Other factors

It is possible to complete probate in a short time, but it could conceivably take years for very complicated estates to move fully through the probate process.

Don't be afraid to ask for help

Clearly, there is much more to know about Texas probate than can be detailed here; otherwise, there wouldn't be an entire legal code devoted to it. One thing is for sure, though: the process can be daunting, and you should never be afraid to ask for legal assistance from someone with the knowledge and experience necessary to guide you through the system.

If you have questions or concerns about the probate of a loved one's estate, seek the advice of an experienced estate planning attorney like Robert M. Mendel. When you work with Mr. Mendell, you get the advantages offered by an individual who is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant and who is Board Certified in Tax Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Furthermore, Mr. Mendell has over 35 years of years of legal experience.

Keywords: probate, estate administration, probate administration, probate process, heir, beneficiary