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FAQs About the Texas Probate Process

Russell Manning Attorney  July 3, 2024

With the right guidance, estate planners, family heirs, and legal counsel, you can move through the probate process with confidence. In this guide, we will explore the basics of probate in Texas and provide tips for a smoother experience. 

What Is Probate, and How Does It Work in Texas? 

Probate is the legal process that validates a deceased person's will and oversees the distribution of their assets. In Texas, probate ensures that the decedent's debts are settled and their remaining assets are distributed to the rightful heirs. This process can vary depending on whether the deceased left a valid will, known as "estate," or did not leave a will, known as "intestate."  

When a will is present, the court validates its authenticity and appoints an executor to manage the estate. If no will exists, the court appoints an administrator to distribute the assets according to Texas intestacy laws. Both roles involve similar responsibilities, though the appointment process differs. 

Finally, it's important to know that not all assets go through probate. Many assets, such as life insurance policies with designated beneficiaries or jointly owned property with rights of survivorship, bypass the probate process altogether. 

Who Can Serve as an Executor in Texas? 

In Texas, almost anyone can serve as an executor, provided they meet a few key qualifications: 

  1. Firstly, the executor must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind.  

  1. Secondly, they cannot have been convicted of a felony unless they have been pardoned.  

  1. Lastly, the court prefers appointing someone who resides in Texas, though out-of-state executors can serve if they appoint a local agent. 

The executor’s duties include gathering and managing the deceased's assets, paying any outstanding debts and taxes, and distributing the remaining assets according to the will. It’s a role that requires diligence, transparency, and a fair amount of paperwork. 

Choosing the right executor is crucial. While many people opt for a family member, it's sometimes wiser to appoint a trusted advisor or professional, especially if the estate is complex or if there are potential conflicts among the heirs. 

How Long Does Probate Take in Texas? 

The duration of the probate process in Texas varies based on several factors, including the size and complexity of the estate, the existence of a will, and whether any disputes arise. On average, straightforward probate cases can take six months to a year to complete. More complicated estates, especially those involving litigation or contested wills, can take several years. 

During this time, the executor or administrator must manage the estate's assets responsibly. This might involve maintaining property, paying ongoing bills, and even selling assets to cover debts or distribute proceeds to heirs. 

What Assets Go Through Probate in Texas? 

Not all assets go through probate in Texas. Generally, probate is required for assets solely owned by the deceased, such as real estate, bank accounts, and personal belongings without designated beneficiaries. However, many assets can bypass probate, including: 

  • Jointly owned property with rights of survivorship 

  • Payable-on-death (POD) bank accounts 

  • Transfer-on-death (TOD) securities 

  • Life insurance policies with a named beneficiary 

  • Retirement accounts, such as IRAs and 401(k)s, with a named beneficiary 

Understanding which assets require probate can simplify the process and help you plan accordingly. 

Do I Need an Attorney for Probate in Texas? 

While it's not legally required to hire an attorney for probate in Texas, it's highly recommended. The probate process involves numerous legal documents, court filings, and deadlines that can be difficult to manage without professional guidance. An attorney can help ensure the process runs smoothly, avoid costly mistakes, and provide valuable advice on handling complex issues. 

For instance, I, Russell Manning, have worked with clients throughout South Texas, including Corpus Christi and the Coastal Bend area, offering personalized legal assistance to make the probate process as stress-free as possible. 

How Much Does Probate Cost in Texas?

The cost of probate in Texas can vary significantly depending on the complexity of the estate and the specific circumstances involved. Common expenses include court fees, executor fees, attorney fees, and costs related to appraisals, accounting, and asset management. On average, probate costs can range from a few thousand dollars to several tens of thousands. 

It's important to note that these expenses are typically paid from the estate’s assets, reducing the amount ultimately distributed to the heirs. Proper estate planning can help minimize these costs. 

What Are the Steps of the Probate Process in Texas?

Filing the Petition 

The first step of the probate process in Texas is filing a petition with the appropriate county probate court. This petition requests the court to recognize the validity of the will (if one exists) and appoint an executor or administrator to manage the estate. 

The court will schedule a hearing to review the petition and any objections. If everything is in order, the court will issue letters testamentary or letters of administration, officially authorizing the executor or administrator to act on behalf of the estate. 

Notification of Heirs and Creditors 

Once appointed, the executor or administrator must notify all potential heirs and creditors of the probate proceedings. This involves sending written notices to known parties and publishing a notice in a local newspaper to alert any unknown creditors. 

Heirs have the right to contest the will or the executor’s appointment, while creditors can submit claims against the estate for any outstanding debts. This notification process is crucial to ensure all interested parties are aware of the probate proceedings and have an opportunity to participate. 

Inventory and Appraisal 

The executor or administrator is responsible for creating a detailed inventory of the estate's assets. This includes real estate, personal property, financial accounts, and any other valuable items. An appraisal may be necessary to determine the fair market value of certain assets, such as real estate or collectibles. 

This inventory and appraisal must be filed with the probate court, providing a clear picture of the estate's total value. Accurate record-keeping and transparency are essential during this stage to avoid potential disputes or legal issues. 

Paying Debts and Taxes 

Before any assets can be distributed to heirs, the estate’s debts and taxes must be paid. This includes any outstanding bills, loans, credit card balances, and final income taxes. The executor or administrator is responsible for ensuring all valid claims are satisfied, either by using estate funds or liquidating assets if necessary. 

Once all debts and taxes are paid, the executor or administrator can request the court's approval to distribute the remaining assets to the heirs. This step ensures that all obligations are met before the estate is closed. 

Distribution of Assets 

The final step in the Texas probate process is the distribution of assets to the rightful heirs. The executor or administrator will follow the instructions outlined in the will or, if no will exists, the intestacy laws of Texas. This involves transferring ownership of real estate, distributing financial accounts, and handing over personal property to the designated beneficiaries. 

Once all assets are distributed, the executor or administrator will file a final accounting with the probate court, detailing all transactions and distributions. The court will then issue an order to officially close the probate case, marking the end of the process. 

How Can I Leverage Estate Planning to Avoid Probate? 

Avoiding probate can save time, money, and stress for your loved ones. Several estate planning strategies can help you achieve this goal: 

  1. Living Trusts: Creating a living trust allows you to transfer ownership of your assets to the trust, avoiding probate. You can manage the trust during your lifetime and designate a successor trustee to distribute the assets after your death. 

  2. Joint Ownership: Holding property as joint tenants with rights of survivorship ensures that the property passes directly to the surviving owner without going through probate. 

  3. Beneficiary Designations: Naming beneficiaries on financial accounts, life insurance policies, and retirement accounts allows these assets to bypass probate and go directly to the designated individuals. 

  4. Payable-on-Death (POD) and Transfer-on-Death (TOD) Accounts: Designating POD or TOD beneficiaries on bank accounts and securities ensures that these assets pass directly to the named individuals without probate. 

These strategies can help streamline the transfer of your assets and provide peace of mind for you and your loved ones. 

Get Your Questions Answered

Understanding the key aspects of Texas probate can help estate planners, family heirs, and legal advice seekers navigate it with confidence. From understanding the role of an executor to exploring ways to avoid probate, this guide has provided valuable insights and practical tips. 

For more personalized assistance, consider consulting with a qualified attorney. I, Russell Manning, am here to help clients throughout Corpus Christi, South Texas, and the Coastal Bend area with their probate and estate planning needs. Feel free to reach out to my firm for a consultation and take the next steps toward securing your peace of mind and protecting your loved ones' future.