Losing a loved one is difficult no matter the circumstances, and most likely, the last thing on your mind at this time is how to properly handle their finances. It can be uncomfortable and shocking to talk about, but it’s better to have a solid understanding before you have to navigate the world of wills and probate while grieving.
Like many things, probate laws vary by state, so it’s important to gather the right information. Let’s get to the question at hand — are you required to probate a will in Texas? The short answer is: Yes. But, depending on how the deceased has settled affairs and how much money is left, you may be able to avoid going to probate.
Probate is the process in which the authentication of the will is overseen by the court. Meaning, the court will establish the value of the deceased’s estate, pay off the remainder of their outstanding bills or expenses, and finally, disburse however much is left to the appropriate heirs, deemed by the will.
According to Texas probate laws, if the deceased made previous arrangements, such as organizing a trust, and an appointed third party gets responsibility over the deceased’s assets and disbursement, you will not have to go to probate. However, if they’ve only left a will, you must go to probate, or you will lose the will and everything in it. If everything goes uncontested and the will is found to be valid, the probate process will typically take 10 to 18 months. Usually, the biggest issue when validating the will is to confirm that the owner of the will was of sound mind and understanding when the will was authored. In some cases, another beneficiary may be in possession of a more recent version of the will.
Typically, the person left in charge of the will, the executor, will have four years from the date of death to file the necessary paperwork with the probate court. Texas has 18 probate courts, and, although the laws vary by state, the probate courts also hold authority over the amount of time allowed for the executor to file. In Texas, if the paperwork is not properly filed within the allotted time, the will ceases to exist, otherwise known as the state of intestacy.
As the executor, it’s your responsibility to put together a thorough inventory of the assets owned by the deceased, as well as taking care of getting items of value appraised, determining whether any debts were owed to or by the deceased, and obtaining an adequate amount of money through the sale of assets in the event that the deceased owes more money than they had. Lastly, you are responsible for tracking down any and all rightful heirs and notifying them of their naming in the will.
It sounds overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Normally, when you file the paperwork with the probate court, they will provide a petition to begin the probate process. After the beneficiaries are notified, a hearing will be held where the authenticity of the will is determined. At this time, these heirs have the opportunity to contest or object to beginning probate.
After all is said and done, however long it may take, as the executor, it’s your final responsibility to present all beneficiaries with the property bestowed upon them through their naming in the will. Of course, many outlying circumstances may become relevant, but you should be well on your way to conquering probate.