Probate is the court-supervised process of administering an estate after the owner of the estate dies. Probate can be lengthy and complicated, depending on the circumstances, such as if the deceased did not have a Will or if the existing Will is disputed. However, thanks to the state’s “independent administration” allowance, probate in Texas is relatively simpler than in many other places, allowing Executors to settle uncomplicated and uncontested estates with minimal court supervision.
If, however, you are facing a complex probate process, it is a good idea to consult with an experienced attorney. At Stepp & Sullivan, P.C., we assist clients with all aspects of probate. Our firm can help you complete the required steps if you are the Executor of an estate, ensure your rights are protected if you are an heir or beneficiary, and represent you if you are involved in a dispute.
Schedule your initial consultation with one of our Houston probate attorneys today; contact us online or call (832) 501-2823.
Types of Probate in Texas
While many estates may pass through independent administration, this is not the only type of probate in Texas and in some circumstances could be disastrous when a dependent administration is prescribed. In fact, there are several ways in which assets and properties can be transferred to new ownership once the owner of the estate has passed away.
The two main types of probate in Texas include:
- Independent Administration: This requires minimal court supervision and is typically faster and less expensive than traditional types of probate. If an individual dies without a Will, an administrator of the estate can still request independent administration as long as all heirs are in agreement, there are no minor heirs, and the estate is thought to be solvent.
- Dependent Administration: This is less common than independent administration but may be required if an individual dies without a Will and heirs do not agree to independent administration. It may also be required when there are disputes regarding an existing Will or where there are minor heirs; but especially when the estate is insolvent. Dependent administration requires greater court supervision regarding various aspects of settling the estate, such as distributing assets, paying debts, and selling property. Dependent administration involves “running down to the courthouse for everything” whereas independent administration usually just involves the one hearing, taking the Oath in court, and completing all other mandatory aspects outside of court.
In addition to independent and dependent administration of estates, Texas allows what is known as “muniment of title,” which is a relatively simple process of settling an estate when a Will exists but is limited to very specific fact scenarios involving Medicaid Estate Reimbursement and is only possible where there is a certainty that no administration of the estate needs to be opened. Additionally, if an estate is worth less than $75,000 and there is no Will, the heirs may be able to sign a “small estate affidavit” which would be filed with the probate court and often does not require a hearing for the judge to sign the Order; however, SEAs are only possible for extremely limited factual scenarios for a surviving spouse and/or minor children of the decedent to obtain title to the homestead – more complicated family structures will have to go through heirship in the absence of a valid Texas Will. .
Is Probate Always Required?
In general, most estates will need to go through some sort of probate, as this is the official process of settling the estate and officiously transferring title for probate assets. That being said, certain assets do not need to go through probate in order to be transferred to a new owner under most circumstances – if structured correctly, these non-probate assets are not subject to the probate process and rely on contract law.
These non-probate assets can include:
- Life insurance benefits
- Joint tenancy property
- Survivor’s benefits from an annuity
- Bank accounts that are “payable on death”
- Retirement accounts with valid beneficiary designations
- Real property with valid transfer on death deeds on file in county records
However, many times people do not make valid beneficiary designations or do not update them over the years as things change such as divorce or other significant life events, which can lead to unfortunate surprises.
If you have questions about probate or need assistance settling an estate, our firm can help. Reach out to Stepp & Sullivan, P.C. to discuss your situation with one of our skilled probate lawyers in Houston. We are proud to provide personalized legal services and steadfast representation for each and every client.
Get in touch with our legal team at (832) 501-2823 today to schedule your initial consultation.