Houston Probate Lawyer
Probate is a required step in settling a person’s estate after they die. How long probate takes and how much it costs depend on a number of factors, including primarily the size and complexity of the estate and whether you get experienced professional legal help with complicated probate matters. Houston probate lawyer Maria Lowry applies more than a decade of legal experience to help estate executors and personal representatives in Harris County get through probate efficiently and successfully. Learn more about probate in Texas below, and contact the Law Office of Maria Lowry for practical advice and professional representation in any Houston probate matter.
What is probate?
Probate is the court-supervised process required to settle any debts or claims against an estate, which must occur before the remainder of the estate can pass to heirs and beneficiaries in accordance with the terms of the will or Texas laws of intestate succession if the person died without a valid will. Part of the probate process includes proving (the word “probate” comes from a Latin word meaning “to prove”) that the will is indeed the deceased’s last will and testament and that it meets all the validity requirements of the Texas statute of wills and should be enforced. Sometimes this involves calling in the people who witnessed the signing of the will to testify, although if the will was notarized when it was signed, it is considered “self-proving,” and witnesses do not need to be called.
Challenges to the will may still be made by persons who believe the testator lacked the capacity to make a will or that another person exerted undue influence or coercion or fraudulently induced the testator to make certain provisions in the will. A spouse or child who was omitted from the will may also contest the will in probate and claim they should be entitled to a share of the estate despite being omitted from the will.
What are the required steps in a Texas probate proceeding?
The exact procedures required to probate an estate may differ from estate to estate, but essentially the probate process in Texas involves the following steps:
An Application for Probate is filed in Harris County or the county where the deceased lived. The county clerk will then post a notice announcing that a will has been presented for probate, so that interested parties can become aware of the proceeding.
The will is admitted to probate after a probate judge examines the will, calls witnesses as needed, and determines the will should be admitted.
The executor named in the will is formally appointed by the court unless the judge deems the person unsuitable for some reason. If no executor is named, the judge will appoint a personal representative for the estate.
The creditors of the deceased are notified by the executor of the probate proceeding, who will have the opportunity to lodge claims against the estate if they believe they are owed debts from the deceased. Creditors typically include credit card companies, banks or mortgage lienholders, and doctors and hospitals who attended the deceased in his or her final days.
The executor conducts an inventory of the estate, counting up all real property, personal property, bank accounts, investment accounts and other financial assets. Performing this inventory is an area where the help of experienced professionals can be of great value.
The estate’s beneficiaries are identified and notified by the executor. This process can be fairly simple where the will clearly states a limited number of heirs, or it can be very complicated if the deceased left behind a large family with distant relatives spread across the globe. Sometimes a forensic genealogist is brought in to identify potential heirs.
Debts and claims against the estate are settled through payment or litigation if the claims are disputed.
The remainder of the estate is distributed to beneficiaries according to the terms of the will.
A final tax return for the estate is prepared and filed. An accountant or tax lawyer may be needed, as the average estate executor is probably unfamiliar with this type of tax return.
Get the Right Kind of Probate Help from Houston Probate Attorney Maria Lowry
Executors act as fiduciaries to the estate, and they can be held personally liable for mistakes they make that cause harm to the estate and its beneficiaries. If you’ve been named as the executor of an estate in Harris County, contact the Houston Law Office of Maria Lowry for practical advice and the right level of assistance to help probate conclude accurately and expeditiously.