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Estate Planning: Your Family, Your Wealth, Your Legacy.

Probate and Estate Administration

Probate Attorney for Hurst-Euless-Bedford

Texas Probate

Probate is the process by which a will is established as valid or invalid and property is distributed to the heirs of the person who has died (called the decedent) or to other beneficiaries named by the decedent.  Probate matters because a link in the chain of title of property needs to be established.  Not all property is going to be subject to the probate process.  For example, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, bank accounts with pay on death designations, and securities with transfer on death designations are a part of what is called the non-probate estate.

Texas has a relatively short period of time in which to commence the probate of an estate,… 4 years.  After that time, your choices for administration become very limited as are the results you can expect to obtain.  Unlike some states, Texas has a relatively simple probate process.

In Texas, there are 7 types of probate administration:

  • Independent Administration
  • Dependent Administration
  • Muniment of Title
  • Determination of Heirship
  • Affidavit of Heirship
  • Community Property Administration
  • Small Estates

Generally, cases fall into one of the following categories:

  • Independent Administration
  • Dependent Administration
  • Muniment of Title
  • Determination of Heirship

It is commonly believed that probate should be avoided at all costs because it is an expensive, complicated, and time consuming process.  It is true that it can get expensive and that it’s time consuming.  However, in Texas, the process is not that complicated.  Despite popular belief, probate is not avoided if you have a will.  A will is your one-way ticket to the probate court.  And, typically, a will does not address all of your assets.  There are strategies that you can use to avoid probate if you value privacy and control.  Whether or not these strategies will be what is best depends on your goals.  That is something you need to discuss with an attorney.  Contact our office to see how we can assist you.

Estate & Trust Administration

Estate administration refers to the process of probating the estate of a decedent, which generally includes collecting, inventorying and appraising assets; paying and collecting debts; filing and paying estate taxes; and distributing any remaining assets to beneficiaries.  This process is driven by deadlines.  An attorney can help simplify this complicated process. If you need help in the administration of an estate, contact our firm today to schedule a consultation to see how we can assist you.

An executor is the person appointed in the will of a decedent to administer the decedent’s estate.  If the decedent died without a valid will, the term “administrator” is used.  When the court appoints an independent executor, the court issues “letters testamentary” to the appointed person.  If the person died without a will or their will was invalid for some reason, the court issues “letters of administration.”  These documents inform third parties that the executor or administrator has been authorized by the court to administer the affairs of the decedent.

An “independent” executor is permitted to act without court control.  An executor who is not “independent” is a “dependent” executor and must obtain court approval prior to virtually every step in settling an estate.

As noted, the independent executor is responsible for the administration of the decedent’s estate – – which means terminating the affairs of the decedent. This involves:

  • Locating and valuing the decedent’s assets;
  • Preparing an inventory of the assets;
  • Paying debts owed by the decedent;
  • Paying expenses of administration;
  • Paying taxes owed by the decedent or by the estate (and filing any necessary returns, including a personal income tax return if the decedent owed income tax or would have received a refund);
  • Distributing the assets of the estate which remain after payment of debts, expenses, and taxes. The remaining assets are distributed according to the will (or if there was no will, according to the law of “intestate succession”).

The executor owes fiduciary duties to anyone who has an interest in the estate. This means that the executor owes a duty of loyalty and must act in the best interests of the estate. For example, if the executor mismanages estate assets and causes the estate to lose value, he or she can be held liable for these actions and may have to repay the estate the amount of the lost value.

A properly drafted and funded trust will generally avoid probate.  Although the trust does not have to be filed with the probate court, there are still actions that must be taken to properly administer the trust.

Trust administration is not significantly different than probate administration.  The trustee has similar duties to the executor:

  • Contact beneficiaries;
  • Gather assets
  • Value and manage assets
  • Notify potential creditors
  • Pay debts, taxes and final expenses
  • Distribute assets according to the terms of the trust

Successor trustees (often busy family members) often lack the time, resources or knowledge to personally administer the trust, and therefore may call upon legal, accounting, or investment professionals for assistance, and corporate fiduciaries.  We can help your successor trustee(s) deal with the complexities of administering your trust.

Guiding an estate through the administration process requires an understanding of probate law, trust law, and tax law.  We can help.  Please call our office and we will be happy to schedule a consultation, whether or not our office has drafted the original documents. You can download our Texas Probate Worksheet to help you gather all of the pertinent information needed to administer the estate. Click here to contact your Hurst-Euless-Bedford probate attorney.