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Understanding the Basics of Texas Probate Law

After the death of a family member or loved one, dealing with legal issues can add extra stress to the loss you already feel. Working with experienced Houston civil litigation lawyers can often provide added help in navigating probate proceedings. These dedicated legal professionals can represent your interests throughout this sometimes lengthy process, allowing you to handle other matters during this difficult time. Here is a brief overview of Texas probate to help you understand what to expect during these legal proceedings.

Most Texas probate cases fall into one of two categories:

  • Testate administrations occur when the deceased individual left a valid will that provides clear instructions about the distribution of assets and property.
  • Intestate probate proceedings are used when no will is available. These legal processes generally take much longer than testate probate and may involve challenges or disputes that may end up in court or in mediation for months or years.

Probate cases can also be divided based on the way in which the will or estate distribution is administered:

  • As its name suggests, independent administration is performed by a named or assigned executor who largely acts independently of the courts to pay debts, sell assets and distribute proceeds to beneficiaries. This is primarily used in cases of testate probate; however, it can sometimes be used when the deceased individual did not leave a will.
  • Dependent administration requires executors to work closely with court officials and to perform their duties under supervision.

If a will is already in place at the time of death, a process called muniment of title can also be used to transfer assets directly to the beneficiaries without going through the probate process. This can simplify the administrative requirements to a considerable degree and can reduce the time needed to distribute assets under the provisions of the will.

Determining Right of Heirship

In the state of Texas, the right of heirship in intestate cases is determined by the courts. A general order for these determinations has been established that includes the following guidelines:

  • Surviving spouses inherit 100 percent of the estate unless children exist, in which case the spouse receives one-third of the estate and the remaining two-thirds are divided among children and their descendants. If parents or siblings of the deceased individual are still living, they may also claim a share of the inheritance if there are no children.
  • If there is no surviving spouse, children and their descendants receive equal shares of 100 percent of the estate. For decedents without children, surviving parents usually inherit first, following by siblings and their descendants and then grandparents.

The exact order of heirship varies from case to case and typically requires the assistance of a legal professional to ensure that the determination process is completed successfully.

The Role of the Executor

Whether they are named in the will or appointed by the court, executors are entitled to compensation for their efforts on behalf of the estate. Their duties include some or all of the following:

  • Paying any taxes due on the estate
  • Resolving any outstanding debts or obligations
  • Determining the fair value of the assets and financial resources contained in the estate
  • Where necessary, selling property and assets to obtain the fair market value on behalf of beneficiaries
  • Pursuing claims for amounts due to the individual at the time of his or her death
  • Distributing the proceeds of the estate to the appropriate individuals and finalizing the probate process

Because probate can take months or years to complete, the executor may be responsible for these duties for a prolonged period of time.

For families facing the loss of a loved one, the Houston consumer law professional at The Law Office of Henry A. Jakob, PLLC can provide professional support and legal help throughout the probate process. As seasoned lawyers in Houston real estate law and civil litigation, we can deliver the assertive representation you need to protect your interests in and out of court. Call us today at 713.640.5700 to discuss your situation with one of our experienced and knowledgeable attorneys. We look forward to the opportunity to serve your legal needs.

Topics: Houston Civil Litigation Lawyers, Houston Real Estate Law, Houston Consumer Law