What is probate? When someone dies, that person may have left bills that have to be paid and assets that need to be distributed. “Probate” is the process by which an “Estate” is opened to administer the process of paying of debts and distributing assets. If the person who died (known as the “Decedent”) had a Will, then the Probate Court will take possession of it and appoint an Executor to take care of the Estate’s business. There are several steps involved in probate. Let’s break them down.
Step 1: File
A petition must be filed with the probate court to start the process. This is when the will, if there is one, will be filed as well. An executor or administrator will have been named in the will, or one will be appointed by the probate court. There is then a short waiting period, after which the
hearing is held to admit the will to probate, appoint an Executor, and issue “Letters Testamentary.” Letters Testamentary is an official document that the Executor receives from the probate court to demonstrate authority to administer the estate.
Step 2: Notify
During the waiting period, creditors, heirs, and beneficiaries will need to be notified that the estate is in probate. This will allow anyone to contest the will or administration of the estate. There is a limited time for any creditor to make a claim to any assets of the estate.
Step 3: Value
Once an executor or administrator has been appointed, they must assess and catalog all of the decedent’s assets and property. This can include property, real estate, business interests, stocks, bonds, retirement accounts, bank accounts, and personal effects.
Step 4: Debts
At this point, all funeral expenses, outstanding bills, debts, and taxes must be paid. A final income tax return must be filed on the estate. These tasks can be simplified if an estate account is set up for paying final debts. Sometimes, the executor/administrator is allowed to sell estate assets to satisfy those obligations.
Step 5: Distribute
After the waiting period allowing creditors to file claims against the estate, and all proper claims and debts are paid, the remaining assets of the estate will be distributed to the beneficiaries of the estate. If there is a will, it will be carefully adhered to; however, if there is no will, assets will be divided according to intestate succession laws. The Texas Estates Code directs how assets are to be divided in the event that there is not a will.
We are here for you
We are truly sorry for your loss. It is difficult enough to lose a loved one, and you should not have to deal with the probate process alone. We are here for you and we can make the process as painless as possible. If you have questions regarding the probate process or need help with an estate, please contact us at (806) 350-HOPE (4673) or visit www.350hope.com.