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Probate & Estate Administration

When a loved one passes away, his or her estate often goes through probate where the assets of the deceased are managed and distributed. The probate process in Texas is much quicker and easier than in most states, provided that the estate qualifies for independent administration. As a general rule, a probate qualifies for independent administration only if the deceased left a valid will. 

When the estate qualifies for independent administration, there is little court supervision of the administration of the estate, and the probate process usually involves the following steps:

  • Filing of an application for probate of will and for issuance of letters testamentary with the proper probate court (or if applicable, county court at law).
  • Notice to heirs under the will.
  • Hearing to admit the will to probate and to appoint the executor.
  • Filing of an Inventory, Appraisement and List of Claims by the executor. After the filing and approval of the Inventory, Appraisement and List of Claims, the probate court is seldom involved in the administration of the estate unless the executor seeks to take action that is not specifically authorized in the will.
  • Payment of estate debts to rightful creditors.
  • Sale of estate assets, if necessary.
  • Payment of estate taxes, if applicable.
  • Final distribution of assets to heirs.

If the deceased did not leave a valid will or if the will did not provide for independent administration, dependent administration and substantial court supervision will be required.  This means that the costs of the probate will be much higher and the length of time required to complete the probate will be much longer. 

If the assets of the deceased were owned through a well drafted and properly funded living trust, no court-managed administration of any kind is necessary. The trustee would manage the trust assets and, when required by the trust, distribute those assets.


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What happens if someone objects to the will?
An objection to a will, also known as a “will contest” is a fairly common occurrence during the probate proceedings and can be incredibly costly to litigate. This usually occurs when, for example, children receive disproportionate shares under the will, or when distribution schemes change from a prior will to a later will. Will contests can also be a quarrel over the person designated to serve as executor.
 
To contest a will, one must have legal “standing” to raise objections.  
 
Does probate administer all property of the deceased?
Probate is primarily a process through which title is transferred from the name of the deceased to the names of the beneficiaries.

Certain types of assets are “non-probate assets” and do not go through probate.  These include:

  • Property owned as “joint tenants with right of survivorship”.  Such property passes to the other co-owners by operation of law and does not go through probate.
  • Retirement accounts such as IRA and 401(k) accounts where there are designated beneficiaries.
  • Life insurance policies.
  • Bank accounts with “pay on death” (POD) designations or “in trust for” designations.

Property owned by a living trust is not part of the deceased's probate because it is owned by the trust, rather than the deceased.

Do I get paid for serving as an Executor?

Executors are reimbursed for all legitimate out-of-pocket expenses incurred in the process of management and distribution of the deceased’s estate.  In addition, the executor is entitled to statutory fees. The executor has to fulfill his or her fiduciary duties on behalf of the estate with the highest degree of integrity and can be held liable for mismanagement of estate assets in his or her care. Our firm can represent the executor and assist the executor with his or her duties.

How much does probate cost?  How long does it take?
While the probate process in Texas is more streamlined than in most states, the cost and duration of probate proceedings still varies substantially depending on a number of factors, particularly the existence of a valid will.  If a valid will exists, the probate usually qualifies for streamlined independent administration. If no will exists, in most cases, a dependent administration with substantial court supervision will be required. Other factors affecting the cost of the probate include the value and complexity of the estate and the location of any real property owned by the deceased. Will contests or disputes with alleged creditors over the debts of the estate can also add significant cost and delay.  Common expenses of an estate include executors’ fees, attorneys’ fees, accounting fees, court fees, appraisal costs, and surety bonds.  These typically add up to 5 to 7 percent of the total estate value. Most estates are settled though probate in about 9 to 18 months, assuming there is no litigation.


N. Dean Hawkins & Associates, Inc. assists clients throughout the Dallas metropolitan area, including Dallas, Collin, Denton, Kaufman and Rockwall counties.



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12801 N. Central Expressway, Suite 540, Dallas, TX 75243
| Phone: 972.934.2830

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