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What Happens in Probate Court? A Comprehensive Guide

Updated: May 18

probate attorney Houston
What Happens In Probate Court

Probate court is a place where the stories of people’s lives unfold. It’s where emotions run high, where the past meets the present, and where the future is shaped.

As the surviving loved ones, you are tasked with distributing assets, paying off debts, filing taxes, and more. It’s a lot to take on while mourning.

Having an experienced probate attorney to guide you makes all the difference during this difficult time. At Your Legacy Legal Care, our team has helped countless families navigate Texas probate courts.

We know this process can feel daunting and confusing, especially when you’re grieving. Our goal is to empower you. In this guide, we walk through the key steps of what happens in probate court so you can feel fully prepared and supported.

What Documents Are Needed for Probate?

The probate of an estate in Texas involves preparing and filing various legal documents throughout the proceedings.

Some of the core documents include:

  1. Last Will and Testament – This document executed by the deceased outlines their final wishes for distributing their estate. It must be filed initially to commence probate.

  2. Application to Probate Will – This application is filed to initiate the probate process and officially request the appointment of an executor.

  3. Letters Testamentary – After a hearing and the Court approving the will, the Court issues these letters after appointing an executor. They verify the executor’s legal authority to act on behalf of the estate.

  4. Inventory, Appraisement, and List of Claims – The executor must file this inventory, providing a complete list of the decedent’s assets and liabilities.

  5. Notice to Creditors – The executor must publish a notice in order to notify any potential creditors of the estate administration.

  6. Estate Tax and Income Tax Returns – The executor must file all required final individual, estate, and inheritance tax returns.

  7. Final Accounting and Petition for Distribution – This accounting and petition requests court approval to distribute assets to beneficiaries and close the estate. It is not necessary in independent administrations unless the will or a beneficiary requests the accounting.

Proper preparation and filing of these documents is critical to moving efficiently through the probate process.

What is the Probate Process in Texas?

When a person passes away without leaving a valid will, their estate must go through probate court if they own real estate, oil and gas, and minerals, as well as any asset without a beneficiary designation. This involves a series of legal procedures intended to collect assets, pay debts and taxes, and distribute property to beneficiaries according to the will.

Here is a more in-depth look at what happens in each phase of probate court proceedings:

Initiating Probate by Filing a Petition

The first step is to file a petition with the appropriate county probate court in Texas to officially commence proceedings. This petition asks the court to admit the decedent’s last will and testament to probate and appoint the executor named in the will.

Initial Court Hearing to Appoint the Executor

At the initial court hearing, the probate judge reviews the will to validate it. The judge then officially appoints the executor named in the will to oversee administering the estate.

Notifying Beneficiaries and Creditors

The executor must provide proper legal notice to all beneficiaries named in the will and to any known creditors. This allows interested parties to assert any claims on estate assets and funds.

Filing an Inventory of Assets and Liabilities

The executor must file a detailed inventory that accounts for all of the decedent’s assets as well as any outstanding debts and liabilities.

Handling Claims Against the Estate

The executor must address any claims made against the estate by creditors. This involves reviewing claims for validity, negotiating repayment, and using estate funds to settle legitimate debts.

Filing Necessary Tax Returns

The executor must file applicable tax returns on behalf of the estate, including estate tax returns. Any taxes owed must be paid out of estate proceeds.

Distributing Assets to Beneficiaries

Once all valid claims and taxes are paid, the executor distributes the remaining assets to the beneficiaries as outlined in the decedent’s will.

Closing the Estate

Finally, the executor can petition the court to close the estate after completing administration and distribution. Once approved, the executor is discharged from duties by the judge. Most will not file to close the estate as it is more costly to reopen if assets are found in the future.

Variations to the Typical Probate Process

While standard probate with a valid will follows the main steps outlined above, there are some common situations that can alter the usual proceedings:

  1. Small Estates – If the estate value is under $75,000, it may qualify for simplified small estate procedures.

  2. Contested Wills – If the will’s validity is challenged by heirs or beneficiaries, probate can be significantly prolonged through litigation.

  3. Claims Against the Estate – Disputes over debts owed or asset ownership can complicate probate, potentially requiring negotiation or legal action.

  4. Lengthy Asset Sales – If assets like real estate must be sold during probate, this can extend timelines considerably compared to liquid assets.

Having an experienced probate attorney allows us to help you navigate any variations from normal proceedings. We have the legal skills to handle complications and customize our counsel to your specific situation.

How an Attorney Can Guide You Through Probate

Having an experienced probate attorney assist you through the probate process can be invaluable. A knowledgeable probate lawyer can ensure that all of the required legal filings and notices are handled properly and deadlines are met.

They will help you gather and prepare the necessary documentation, such as the inventory of estate assets.

A probate attorney can also negotiate creditor claims against the estate and make sure any required taxes are filed and paid correctly. They will counsel you on your options for distributing assets to beneficiaries and closing out the estate according to the specifications in the will.

Overall, having an estate planning attorney to guide you helps the probate process go as smoothly and efficiently as possible while avoiding costly legal errors. Their counsel can prove invaluable well beyond the closure of the estate, too, as they can continue assisting you with any residual matters related to the estate or probate proceedings even after the court formally closes the case.

Don’t Navigate Probate Court Alone – Your Legacy Legal Care Can Guide You

Going through probate can be complex and emotionally draining – but you don’t have to go through it alone. The dedicated attorneys at Your Legacy Legal Care provide tailored guidance through the probate process when there is a valid will.

We will handle the proceedings on your behalf so you can focus on honoring your loved one’s wishes.

Our decades of combined probate experience in Harris County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Chambers County, and Liberty County allow us to protect your rights, efficiently execute the will, and ensure proper asset distribution. We are your compassionate legal partners, here to support you every step of the way.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation – we’re ready to help you move forward during this difficult time.

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