The strong emotions that come with a love one’s passing are often followed by bewilderment when survivors realize all of the financial and legal steps they must take to settle their affairs. The spouse who passed away may have handled all of the couple’s finances, leaving the other uninformed and overwhelmed. Or perhaps a caregiver must begin probating an estate which he or she knows little about. In some cases, the estate itself may be in disarray or scattered among many accounts or assets. Probate can be intimidating but understanding how the process works and having some expert legal tips at your disposal will help you execute your duties confidently and correctly. The probate timeline takes a while to complete because its designed to prevent the executor from making hasty decisions rooted in grief. It also allows plenty of time for notifying all beneficiaries and creditors, as well as completing all final financial transactions before the estate is closed. Outside factors will also impact the probate timeline and how long the probate process takes. For example, in some states overburdened probate courts are backed up, resulting in court date delays of weeks or months. If the estate includes property to be sold, the probate real estate sale process can lengthen the proceedings significantly.
A clear understanding of how the basic probate timeline works can ease the stress of this challenging, and often lengthy process. In Texas, the probate process can take anywhere from 9 to 12 months to several years. That’s a rather wide window—largely because each probate case is unique. Probate laws in the state where the estate property resides also play a major role in the length of the probate timeline. For example, in some states, the value of the estate determines how long the process will take or how much it will cost. Thankfully, some states have taken steps to refine and simplify the probate process. Sixteen states have adopted the American Bar Association-approved Uniform Probate Code to simplify probate proceedings. Fortunately, Texas is among the most efficient probate systems in the country. Texas allows for Independent administration, which allows the executor to administer the estate without court involvement once appointed.
Here are some probate terms you should know:
Decedent: When probating a will in Texas, you will come across the term “decedent” often. This is the legal term for the person who has died and whose estate is in the probate process.
Will: This is the legal document in which a decedent has outlined how he or she would like assets distributed among their loved ones, which passes through the probate process in the courts.
Estate: An estate consists of all the decedent’s assets. These include, but aren’t limited to, cash, real estate holdings (homes, land, etc.), stocks and bonds, ownership in closely held businesses, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, vehicles and personal belongings.
Beneficiaries: These are the loved ones named in a will or trust where the decedent has directed his estate to go. If there is no will, it will determine by the court who will receive assets from the decedent’s estate.
Heirs: Those persons who are the familial descendants of the decedent and are typically, when there is no will, who will receive assets from the estate, as determined by the court.
Trust: A document which directs the trustee to administer or distribute the estate for the decedent and for the benefit of the beneficiary of beneficiaries. This is handled outside of the probate process and allows the assets to pass without court involvement.
Trustee: The person charged with administering the estate pursuant to the directions spelled out in the trust instrument.
Intestacy: Dying without a will, leaving it up to the state statute to determine the distribution and administration of the estate.
Executor: When a person leaves a valid will in place, the document typically names a person to serve as executor of the estate. The chief duties of the executor will be to inventory and catalog the decedent’s assets; pay debts of the estate; pay taxes of the estate; file lawsuits for claims owed to the estate; and distribute assets from the estate to the heirs as named in the decedent’s Last Will and Testament.
Administrator: When the decedent has passed on without leaving a valid will or when no executor has been named, Texas law requires that an administrator be appointed to carry out the duties of an executor. The court will often appoint one of the primary heirs to act in this capacity or when there is conflict between the heirs, the court may appoint an independent attorney to administer the estate.
Reach us to schedule your one-on-one to see how the probate process might affect you and your loved ones and to check options to avoid a costly probate all together.