Probate & Estate Administration Process Attorney in Houston, Texas
When someone executes a will in Texas, they name a person to serve as executor of their estate. If someone dies intestate (without a will), a person can be appointed to serve as administrator of the estate. In either case, the role of this individual is both necessary and important. As a probate attorney in Houston, Texas, I help clients navigate their executor and administrator roles with empathy, focus and in a timely manner.
If you have been named an executor in someone’s will, or, if someone you love has died without a will and you have been appointed by the court to handle the administration of the estate, you don’t have to be a lawyer to successfully handle the tasks at hand. However, you do need to know the responsibilities involved in carrying out your role.
It isn’t always easy. Complex estates, will challenges, creditor issues, and dealing with heirs can add stress to an already difficult time. At the law office of W. Timothy Weaver, Attorney at Law, I help keep the process as calm as possible for clients across the Greater Houston Area, including Conroe, Katy, Sugarland, and The Woodlands.
What Is the Difference Between Probate and Estate Administration?
Estate administration comprises the activities required in the administration of an estate that leads to closing out an estate, such as inventorying assets, paying creditors and distributing the assets of the estate.
So, what is probate? Probate refers to the court’s validating of the decedent's will, and the appointment of the executor named in the will or make a finding as to who the heirs of the decedent are and the appointment of someone to handle the probate administration if there is no will. Therefore, probate is the initial proceeding in the administration process that deals with the court.
How Does Probate Work in Texas?
Probate in Texas involves the initial activities required to administer the estate. If there is a will, the probate court will verify its validity, identify the beneficiaries named therein, and approve the appointment of the executor named in the will, thereby giving the executor full legal authority to conduct business on behalf of the estate.
What happens when someone dies without a will? This creates an intestate estate. The probate court will identify all potential heirs to the estate, informed by Texas laws of intestate succession. Beneficiaries are those named in a will, but heirs are those entitled to inherit due to their marriage or familial relationship with the decedent who left no will.
Probate of an intestate estate also involves the court’s appointment of a personal representative to administer the estate. As with an executor, this person is granted legal authority to conduct the estate’s business.
What Do Executors or Personal Representatives of the Estate Do?
The role of estate executors is to identify and contact beneficiaries named in a will or identify and contact all heirs with inheritance rights under the laws of intestate succession. The executors or personal representatives also must inventory all assets of the estate which are subject to probate.
There are numerous assets that are not subject to probate. These include those that transfer under joint tenancy, such as when a surviving spouse co-owns real property with the decedent. Excluded assets are also those that transfer automatically to a named beneficiary upon death, such as bank, investment, or retirement accounts with transfer on death notifications, life insurance proceeds, or vehicles with a title on death designation.
Executors must also publish notices of the opening of the estate so creditors and others who believe they are entitled to estate proceeds may respond accordingly. The executor must pay debts from the assets subject to probate, pay all taxes incurred by the estate, distribute the residual estate to beneficiaries or heirs as appropriate, and close out the estate upon submitting a completed inventory of all activities to the court.
The Estate Administration Process
The general estate administration process is to address all issues of the estate until they are resolved. However, there are two types of estate administration in formal probate, independent and dependent.
In an independent administration, the executor or administrator will be authorized to handle the administration of the estate without court supervision. With the court’s authority, the executor will protect all assets of the estate, negotiate with creditors to satisfy legal debts, and make all financial moves and distributions without court oversight.
Depending on the estate, this lack of supervision may be preferable, or may make you feel unsure about whether you are administering the estate properly. Using assets of the estate to pay for the services of an estate administration attorney can make your life much easier.
In a dependent estate administration, the court must approve all activities undertaken by the executor. For example, the judge would review and approve the creditor inventory and debt repayment plan before the executor is authorized to pay them with the estate’s assets. Dependent administration is likely to take longer than independent administration.
An executor can ask the court to avoid probate by using one of three methods. If there is a will, no debts, and no Medicaid lien against the estate, the executor can request a muniment of title which allows the transfer of assets as designated in the will.
If there is no will and the estate has less than $75,000 in assets subject to probate, heirs can sign affidavits attesting to this to avoid probate. Moreover, if medical and funeral bills exhaust the estate’s assets—or if there are only enough assets to pay the minimum owed to the heirs of the estate—the court may not require probate.
The Probate Administration Process
To reiterate, probate of a testate estate involves validating a will, identifying the beneficiaries, and approving the appointment of the named executor. Probate of an intestate estate involves identifying all heirs under the law of intestate succession and naming a person to administer the estate.
Wills can be challenged. Disgruntled heirs not named as beneficiaries may challenge the will’s validity. So might beneficiaries who believed they were receiving more of the estate than designated in the filed will. Even if there is no will, individuals may allege to be heirs, for example, in cases where paternity was not established prior to death.
These types of challenges that may arise during probate can be complex and time-consuming and will always benefit from assistance from an experienced probate attorney.
Probate & Estate Administration Process Attorney Serving Houston, Texas
If you need to know how to fulfill your duties as the named executor or appointed personal representative, or if you need legal expertise to help you address challenges arising in probate, I can help. The result? You will fulfill your obligations with less stress, carry them out according to the law, and resolve any issues that may arise. Call W. Timothy Weaver, Attorney at Law, in Houston, Texas, to get started today.