When a loved one dies and leaves behind a sizable estate, there is sometimes a notion that their loved ones would jump at an opportunity to grab the lion’s share of the estate. While that may be true in some cases, there are also instances wherein the deceased person’s surviving family and beneficiaries can work together to achieve an amicable distribution. This is a court process referred to as uncontested probate.
Losing a loved one can leave a family prone to feelings of grief, anxiety, abandonment, and more. Getting into a conflict over the distribution of a loved one’s wealth is the last thing anyone wants. When a family can come together to agree to a harmonious resolution and avoid probate litigation, the process of probate can provide a sense of security instead of unease to everyone involved. Our experienced Houston uncontested probate attorneys at The Law Office of Whitney L. Thompson have the necessary legal experience and knowledge of the Houston probate process and can further equip you with the assurance that your loved ones’ legacy is being honored.
Probate is the legal procedure where the will of a deceased person, referred to as a decedent, is authenticated and administered. The probate process also facilitates the distribution of the estate according to the will. In the case that the decedent does not leave a will behind, probate will facilitate the distribution of the estate to the decedent’s heirs in compliance with Texas intestacy laws.
If the decedent left behind a will, there is a likelihood that they also identified a person or an entity whom they prefer to oversee the distribution of their estate. This person or entity is referred to as the executor. If there is no will, the state may assign a public administrator or pool candidates from the loved one’s relatives to act in that capacity.
The executor or the administrator is tasked with pooling the decedent’s assets. From the assets, estate debts and taxes will be collected and the remaining assets will be distributed to the beneficiaries. For small estates with no debt, Texas offers a simplified estate administration procedure. This process involves filing a Small Estate Affidavit which allows the transfer of property to the decedent’s heirs without the involvement of a formal probate process. There are two types of probate administration in Texas, dependent and independent. The type of probate administration refers to the degree of supervision the probate court has on the case.
In this type of probate administration, the executor or administrator needs to obtain the court’s permission to engage in transactions on the estate’s behalf. Such transactions can include paying the estate’s debts, taxes, and liquidating assets.
The high degree of involvement required from the court is due to potential conflict between heirs and beneficiaries. The strict guidelines don’t only apply to the administrator conducting transactions but also to creditors who want to make a claim to the estate. If the creditor does not follow the guidelines, the estate would not be responsible for paying off any debt they are claiming for.
A bond may also be required from the administrator to protect the estate from any fiduciary mismanagement. This allows the estate to recoup any losses in the case that the assigned administrator does not perform their fiduciary duties responsibly or defrauds the estate.
Independent probate administration requires minimal supervision from the court and as such can be more independent and efficient compared to dependent probate. In addition, this type of administration is a popular choice due to the fact that it involves less contention and allows the process to remain friendly.
There are two ways in which the probate process can become independent in Texas:
An independent probate administration can help save time due to the fact that the executor or administrator would not have to wait for the court’s permission to conduct transactions. Less involvement of the court also saves the estate money from court fees.
Texas also has a unique method used in probate called the Muniment of Title. Even if there is no executor or administrator, the court can transfer the title of property directly to beneficiaries once the will has been certified to have been created by the decedent. Muniment of Title is extremely useful in cases where the sole remaining asset in the estate is real estate property, like the decedent’s home. If there are other assets, such as bank accounts or stocks that would need to be divided, formal probate proceedings may be more applicable.
While uncontested probate commonly deals with the amicable distribution of a deceased person’s estate, there can be a number of factors wherein uncontested probate may turn contentious. It’s not unheard of for people to try and get more than their fair share of inheritance especially when they know that the estate being distributed is sizable.
Probate litigation is the common term for instances where two or more parties have a dispute, either regarding the administration of the estate or a contest to the will, which necessitates the intervention of the court. Depending on the specific case, the contention may come from either a reputable concern over how the estate is being handled or an attempt to defraud.
Some instances of probate litigation can include the following:
When probate litigation occurs and regardless of whether you are a beneficiary, an executor, or an administrator, it’s wise to get the help of an experienced Houston probate attorney.
Texas follows very strict guidelines when it comes to probate to avoid instances of mismanagement and bad faith attempts to stall the estate administration. Concerns about how probate is being handled must be submitted in a timely manner to facilitate the distribution of the decedent’s estate as efficiently as possible. If you’re a beneficiary, an attorney can help you raise your concerns and ensure that your rights are protected. As an executor or administrator, an attorney can assist you in performing your duties and make sure that you are aware of your rights and responsibilities.
At The Law Office of Whitney L. Thompson, top-rated Houston estate planning attorney Whitney L. Thompson has assisted many families through the often complicated Houston probate process. We may be able to help you regardless of whether your probate is contested or uncontested.
Contact our office today at (281) 214-0173 to schedule a consultation.
Even though each case is unique and probate cases can vary a lot, uncontested probate in Texas generally follows a defined process.
Upon the death of a person, their probate attorney or the proposed executor or administrator should file an application for probate with the Texas probate court in the county where the decedent resided.
After this, the court posts a notice about the probate application to notify any stakeholders who may want to contest the authenticity of the will or challenge the administration of the estate. There is a waiting period to allow any stakeholders to come forward, which can take 10-14 days. Once the waiting period is over, a hearing will be held.
During the hearing, the court will verify if the decedent left a valid will behind or if probate should proceed under intestacy law. The will is authenticated and witnesses may be called to verify the will if it is not self-proving. As part of the authentication process, the probate court will also verify the capacity of the executor to perform their duties or, if the decedent did not leave a will behind or did not name an executor, appoint an administrator to oversee the probate process. The court will also provide the executor or administrator authorization letters to allow them to conduct transactions on behalf of the estate, such as selling assets or accessing them to get funds to pay debts or taxes.
The administrator or executor is tasked with collecting and pooling the decedent’s assets within 90 of being appointed and filing an Inventory, Appraisement, and List of Claims in accordance with Texas Estate Code § 309.051. If there is no need to create an inventory and the estate debts are mostly probate administrative fees and taxes, an Affidavit in Lieu of Inventory can be filed with the court provided that the inventory is made available to the beneficiaries for transparency. This method would allow the decedent’s estate to avoid being part of public record but does less to alleviate the work needed as an inventory would still be necessary.
The executor or administrator must also give notice to the beneficiaries named in the will or the heirs as determined by intestate succession. There are also ways for individuals to prove heirship in court when the distribution is determined according to intestacy law. Public notice must also be given to increase the visibility and allow any potential claimants to surface.
Speaking of claimants, any creditors must also be informed to allow them to file a claim. To ensure that this process is followed, there are specific rules the executor or administrator must follow according to the law. If the value of the estate is not enough to pay for its debts, payment will follow a hierarchy wherein some debts are prioritized over others such as federal taxes and funeral expenses. Only after all debts and taxes are paid can the distribution of assets to the beneficiaries or heirs can proceed.
While the whole process can become contested as soon as someone files a will contest – the statute of limitations is 2 years from the date the will is admitted into probate – it can remain uncontested as long as the beneficiaries or heir can work together through probate mediation. Probate mediation does not involve a trial in court but rather involves the parties coming together and addressing their differences.
While uncontested probate may have none of the disputes contested probate has, it does not mean that it is any less involved. Having the help of an experienced Houston uncontested probate attorney can be instrumental in allowing you to make sure that your rights are protected and that probate proceeds as efficiently as it could.
If you are an executor or administrator, an attorney can help empower you in making decisions that honor the decedent’s wishes and allow you to perform your fiduciary duties to your maximum potential.
Should the need arrive to file a contest, either because there is a breach of fiduciary duty or if there is an attempt to defraud, an attorney can be a powerful ally to have to allow you to avoid any issues.
Our skilled Houston probate attorneys at The Law Office of Whitney L. Thompson have helped beneficiaries and personal representatives alike understand their rights and responsibilities in the Texas probate process. Our competent attorneys can leverage their knowledge of the law to help you make informed decisions that can help the process move forward.
Contact our law firm today at (281) 214-0173 to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced Houston uncontested probate lawyers.