If you are researching probate or seeking legal representation, you may have a variety of motivations. You could be looking for the best possible method of estate planning to help your beneficiaries avoid probate altogether. You may, on the other hand, be coping with a recent loss and need compassionate legal guidance through the probate process.
With sensitivity, forethought, and close attention to detail, our probate lawyers at Labovitz Law Firm help Fort Worth clients achieve their legal goals. With our qualified guidance, you can better understand every step of the probate process and ensure the final wishes of your loved one are properly fulfilled. Furthermore, we will do everything in our professional power to help you and the other beneficiaries avoid or resolve disputes.
Understanding Probate: Terms to Know
The probate process is when a court recognizes a person's death and authorizes the management and distribution of their estate. Because certain circumstances call for additional steps, every estate will have a unique probate process.
Before you begin, be sure to understand these key probate terms:
- Decedent: the person who passed away
- Last will and testament: outlines how the decedent would like their assets distributed; commonly referred to as a will
- Beneficiaries: those named in the will as recipients of the decedent's assets
- Executor: the person named in the will responsible for fulfilling a variety of duties, such as locating the decedent's assets, deciding if probate is necessary, contacting the beneficiaries, and resolving the decedent's outstanding affairs
- Estate: all the decedent's assets (e.g. real estate, life insurance, personal belongings, cash, etc.)
- Intestate succession: how the court decides to distribute assets when the decedent died intestate (without a will)
All property distribution must be legitimized through probate, with a few exceptions. Living beneficiaries of life insurance policies, for example, can most often contact the insurance company to receive the benefits. Similarly, a Transfer on Death Deed allows the designated beneficiary to claim real estate without probate. Certain types of trusts allow the decedent's estate to avoid probate as well.
Is Probate Possible Without a Lawyer?
A pro se or “self-help litigant” is a person who applies for probate without a lawyer. In Texas, this is legal if you are representing only yourself in court. If you need representation for a third person or entity, you will need an attorney. Even if you are only representing yourself, our lawyers can help you understand unique Texas laws, protect your best interests, and overcome any obstacles that arise.
What Happens During Probate, and How Long Will It Take?
The steps you will need to complete during probate depend on whether the owner of the estate died with or without an estate plan or last will and testament. In some cases, the decedent may have established a will, but the court determines it is invalid. This may be the case if the will was not signed by either the testator or someone legally able to sign on their behalf. The will must also have been created and signed in the presence of two credible witnesses, or three if the will was created orally.
In general, probate in Texas follows these steps:
- Filing for probate—must be in the county where the decedent lived.
- Posting—two week waiting period. If no one contests the will, the court will proceed after the waiting period.
- Will validation—a Texas probate judge will legally recognize the decedent's death, verify whether the decedent had a valid will, and verify or select the will executor.
- Cataloging assets—the executor must report all assets in the decedent's estate within 90 days.
- Beneficiaries identified—the executor will notify the beneficiaries listed in the will. If the decedent did not create a will, the court will determine heirship.
- Notifying creditors—debts such as medical bills, mortgages, and other expenses must be resolved. Creditors will be notified of the debtor's death and given the opportunity to file claims.
- Resolving disputes—if someone contests the will or files a grievance, the probate judge will hear the dispute in court. The person contesting the will must prove the will is legally invalid.
- Distributing assets—this will occur once all debts and disputes are resolved.
Contact Our Probate Attorneys Today
Whether you need representation during a dispute, general guidance through the probate process, or legal counsel for your estate planning needs, our probate lawyers will work closely with you to determine the best course of action to attain your goals. Because we understand probate can be an emotional process, our attorneys provide empathetic support for every client no matter their situation.