When a loved one passes away, very important legal actions must be taken in order to properly protect and transfer estate assets. For example, the decedent's house deed and vehicle title must be properly transferred to the proper beneficiary. Hopefully, the decedent will have prepared a Last Will and Testament prior to death. This important document dictates who is to receive the property and who will be authorized to transfer it. The process for gaining authority to administer the estate of the decedent is known as the probate process. Today's blog post will outline the basic steps of the Texas probate process in cases in which the Decedent properly executed a valid Last Will and Testament.
Step One: Analyze the Last Will and Testament
An experienced probate attorney should evaluate the Will to ensure that it can be smoothly admitted for probate. Examining the Will for any legal deficiencies will allow the attorney to anticipate potential problems and overcome any legal hurdles. The attorney will check to make sure that the Will is properly attested by two witnesses, notarized by a notary public and that it is accompanied by a proper self-proving affidavit. Additionally, the attorney will make sure that the Will disposes of all of the Decedent's property, and that it names an Executor to act independently and without bond. Deficiencies can almost always be overcome; however, doing so often comes with increased cost and extensive delays.
Step Two: File an Application to Probate Will and For Issuance of Letters Testamentary
A proper Application should be filed in the proper county, which is typically the county of the Decedent's domicile at the time of death. The original Will is then submitted to the clerk.
Step Three: Notice and Scheduling
Once the Application has been filed, the clerk can issue proper notice by posting. After the proper posting period, the attorney can schedule a hearing at a convenient time for the Court, Applicant and the attorney.
Step Four: Preparation of Documents
The attorney will then prepare a proposed Order, the Oath and an Inventory form. The Applicant will need to review these important documents to ensure accuracy and completeness. These documents are then filed with the clerk so that they can be approved by the Judge.
Step Five: Hearing
At the hearing, the attorney will ask the Applicant important questions in the presence of the Judge, the answers to which will establish the elements necessary for admitting the Will to probate and for appointing the Applicant as the Independent Executor. Once the Judge has approved and signed the Order, the Applicant then takes the oath and requests the issuance of Letters Testamentary. The clerk then issues the Letters.
Step Six: Administration and Notice
With the Letters Testamentary in hand, the Executor has legal authority to transact the business of the estate. For example, the Executor can transfer the house deed and vehicle title, close bank accounts and transfer stocks. The Executor's duty is to transfer the assets in accordance with the terms of the Will, to the beneficiaries named in the Will and in the proper percentages. Failure to properly distribute the estate can cause signficant legal consequences to the Executor, so it is important for the Executor to fully understand these duties and to timely and properly fulfill them. The attorney will then send proper notificiation to the beneficiaries of the estate and the file can then be closed.
If you've recently experienced the loss of a loved one and are perplexed by the legal issues involved, you don't have to go through the journey alone. Seeking the legal advice of a competent probate attorney is an important first step. The attorneys of Christiansen Law Firm have extensive experience assisting families with the probate process. An experienced probate attorney at Christiansen Law Firm can consult with you and provide legal assistance through this important process. Contact Christiansen Law Firm in Houston or San Antonio to arrange a free consultation.