Probate is the legal process whereby a will is authenticated in a court of lawWhen there is a will… probate is the legal process whereby a will is authenticated in a court of law and arranges for the distribution of a person’s estate. Texas offers some of the simplest probate options, allowing families to quickly conclude personal and financial family matters with dignity.

If the will is uncontested and the estate is not large or complex, probate can be a routine procedure, where a judge verifies the documents and releases the estate to be transferred. However, if there are disputes, questions about the validity of the will, no beneficiaries are named or the appointed executor does not want the job, probate can become a lengthy, complex and expensive process.

After the executor is appointed in the hearing before the judge, below are a few steps that must be completed.

  1. The assets will need to be tracked down and inventoried.
  2. Non-cash property must be appraised and sold, if necessary, to settle debts and pay taxes.
  3. Once the financial obligations are fulfilled, the remaining property is divided according to the will’s instructions or the court’s order.

When there is not a will… probate is whereby the estate is settled according to the laws of intestacy in the state of residence of the deceased at the time of death in the absence of a legal will. When a person dies without a will in Texas, their property will be distributed under Texas intestate law. This typically means that heirs will have to go through the Texas Probate Courts to determine who the proper heirs are and to settle the decedent’s estate.  This is called a Suit to Determine Heirship.

What is a Suit to Determine Heirship? 
If there is not a will and the estate is worth more than $50,000 (not including the homestead and certain non-probate assets), it may be necessary for a court to determine who the heirs are according to Texas law.  The judge will appoint an attorney ad litem to represent the interests of potential or unknown heirs.  A hearing will then be held and two disinterested witnesses and the attorney ad litem will give testimony.  The Heirship Proceeding is generally more expensive than probating a will and can become expensive, if there are many heirs, minor children or complicated business or real estate assets in the estate.

For more information on wills, probate, handling a suit to determine heirship or another estate matter, contact Cynthia Fronterhouse .