The Legal Afterlife: Probate in Texas

Man has always contemplated what will happen after he dies. Usually this is in a spiritual sense, but you may also be curious about what happens to your estate after you pass away. If you have the good fortune of living in Texas and having a valid will, then your estate should be quickly placed in the hands of your executor for distribution according to your wishes.

I give a basic overview of probate in Texas on my probate page, but I'll provide a little more detail on the mechanics of the process for the executor in a simple probate here.

Step One: Find the Will and Take It to Your Attorney.

Yes, it needs to be the original will. You can probate a copy of a will but it adds some extra requirements. Also, don't unstaple the will and, please, don't write on it in any way. 

Step Two: Attorney Files an Application for Probate.

This will provide the court some basic information about the decedent and his estate. At the same time or shortly thereafter, the original will should be filed.

Meanwhile: Gather Information About the Estate.

A lot of the executor's work is behind the scene, trying to find and organize the decedent's assets and debts at the time of death. Hopefully the decedent left things organized, but that's not always the case.

Step Three: Hearing to Admit Executor.

This is usually about five minutes long. Your attorney will ask you some basic questions about the decedent, ask if you recognize his or her will, and ask if you want to be admitted as executor. Unless something unusual occurs, you should be admitted as executor without an issue, and the court will issue you letters testamentary, which give you the authority to act on behalf of the decedent.

Step Four: Notice.

You must provide notice to creditors and to the beneficiaries of the estate. The notice to creditors is provided through a publication in a local newspaper. The beneficiaries can be provided notice through certified mail, or they can sign a waiver saying they have received a copy of the will.

Step Five: Inventory or Affidavit.

Within ninety days of when you are admitted as executor, you must file with the court either an sworn inventory of the assets and claims of the decedent's estate or an affidavit in lieu of the inventory. This is ordinarily the last thing you will need to file with the court.

Step Six: Distribute the Estate.

This can really be done at any time after you are admitted as executor. This is your most important job, to carry out the wishes of the decedent. As an executor, you owe a fiduciary duty to the decedent's beneficiaries to follow the will as best you can. Once the estate is distributed, you can rest easy knowing that you carried out the final wishes of your loved one.

Of course, you should never try to handle a probate matter on your own (and many courts won't let you). If you need help with a loved one's estate, please give us a call!