When a person passes away, Texas state law ordinarily determines what happens to their assets. If they have an estate plan, the will or trust that they created will have provisions that determine how their assets are to be applied to paying debts and transferring wealth. In many cases, a will must be filed in court and a hearing must be held to establish that the will is the last will and testament of the deceased person. At Heritage Estate Planning at The Brennan Law Firm, Terry Brennan, our probate lawyer in Sugar Land, Texas, helps executors of Wills or beneficiaries of an estate through the probate process. He can help you to probate the will (or, if there is no will, have the court appoint the appropriate personal representative), identify estate assets to create an inventory, guide you through probate court, and advise and assist you with distributing assets and inheritances to the beneficiaries. Contact us by either using the online form or calling us directly at (281) 201-6500 to learn more.
How Does Probate in Sugar Land Work?
Probate is the process by which a deceased person's (decedent's) assets and belongings, known as their estate, are passed on to their heirs and successors. Most matters related to wills, estates, conservatorships, and guardianships are handled by probate courts. In Fort Bend County, there is no specialized probate court and the County Courts at law have probate jurisdiction.
Both the probate process and outcomes can look very different, depending on whether the decedent had a valid Will at the time of death.
How do I start probate?
The probate process begins when the decedent passes away. The family of the decedent files a petition with the proper court to have probate opened. The next step is to identify the executor or personal representative of the decedent's estate.
- If there is a Will, it will likely name an executor.
- If there is not a Will, relatives or creditors can apply to be the personal representative, subject to the court's approval.
Once the executor is approved or appointed by the court, the executor must:
- Notify the heirs;
- Publish notice for any creditors;
- Take inventory of the estate (e.g. bank accounts, retirement accounts, stocks and bonds, real estate, personal effects);
- Secure all assets;
- File an inventory, appraisal, and list of claims with the court.
How probate proceeds also depends on whether there is a Will and whether the will provides for independent administration.
How do I probate a will in Texas?
If the decedent died with a Will, the Will must be found, filed with the court, and authenticated before its terms are put into action. This process often involves a court hearing and the parties named in the Will and parties who would have inherited if the Will did not exist are notified. During this hearing, an interested party may contest the Will.
If no one challenges the Will, the executor must first pay off all debts of the estate. Once he has paid all the creditors, the executor distributes the remainder to the beneficiaries in accordance with the Will.
If someone does challenge the Will, then another hearing may be set. The challenger has the burden to prove the Will's invalidity. Challenges are often based on allegations of undue influence, fraud, or misrepresentation. Someone may also challenge the Will if they believe there is another Will that revokes or supersedes the one offered to probate court.
If the court decides the Will is valid, the executor can pay debts, bills, and applicable taxes, and distribute assets. If the court decides the Will is invalid and no prior will exists, it will apply the state's intestacy laws. On the other hand, if the court determines the other Will is valid, it will allow the executor to apply the valid Will (as opposed to the invalid Will).
How can I probate an estate with no will?
If there is no Will, the decedent is said to have died intestate. This does not mean that nobody inherits their assets; it just means that their property will pass to their heirs through Texas intestacy laws.
Once the executor has located all the decedent's assets and has notified and paid the creditors, the personal representative will apply Texas laws of intestacy and distribute the estate to the decedent's heirs.
In Texas, it is common for the Will to appoint an independent executor over the estate. As the name implies, independent executors have much more control over the probate process than court-supervised executors normally do, as the probate court usually does not have to approve their actions. They can do things like selling estate property, entering into a lease, or borrowing money for the benefit of the estate. This saves much time in resolving estate matters and distributing the inheritance without having to involve the probate court.
Once debt and bills are paid and the remaining assets are distributed, the executor will submit an accounting of receipts and records of everything to the court. At that time, the executor will ask the court to close the estate and release the individual from the role of executor.
Do You Need a Probate Lawyer in Sugar Land?
Whether you need a probate lawyer depends on how the estate plan was set up. Regardless, a probate lawyer offers important services that can help speed up the probate process and avoid missteps. A probate lawyer can help with the:
- Collection of proceeds from life insurance policies
- Identification and securing of estate assets
- Appraisals for the decedent's real property
- Payment of bills, debts, and applicable taxes
- Resolution of any income or estate tax issue
- Preparation and filing of all documents required by a probate court
- Management of the estate checking account
- Transfer of assets to beneficiaries
Contact Our Fort Bend Probate Lawyer Today
We are here to help you with your estate plan to minimize the likelihood of challenge and to ensure your wishes are carried out. If you are the executor or beneficiary of an estate, we can also guide you through the probate process. If you have questions, contact Heritage Estate Planning at The Brennan Law Firm either online or at (281) 201-6500 to schedule a consultation with our estate planning lawyer today.