If a person dies with assets, Texas law generally requires the filing of an estate proceeding. An estate may be administered pursuant to the specifications in the decedent's will or, if there is no will, pursuant to the dictates of state law. If an executor or other personal representative is appointed in the decedent's will, that person will act to carry out the directions in the will, within the confines of state law.
Where there is no will, a personal representative qualified by state law may file an estate and receive letters of administration to administer the estate. In general, the duties of the personal representative entail gathering the decedent's assets, paying the bills and distributing the remainder to the decedent's heirs. In Texas, an estate can be administered as an 'independent' estate.
An independent estate is handled independently of court supervision. One benefit is that the estate does not have to turn to the probate court every time it wants to take an action or make a distribution. Prior to filing for an estate in Texas, however, the personal representative or next of kin should first determine whether there are in fact any assets to administer. If all of the assets are in life insurance or other accounts that are payable to specifically named beneficiaries, there is no need for an estate because there are no estate assets.
Additionally, if property is titled in the name of husband and wife as entirety tenants or as joint tenants with the right of survivorship, then that property passes by operation of law to the surviving owner. This means under Texas law that the surviving owner gains ownership immediately at the other's death and that the property is not an asset that goes through an estate. There is an exception to that concept: if the beneficiary in a life insurance policy, for example, predeceased the owner and if the owner did not appoint a new beneficiary, then the insurance proceeds will be paid to the estate.
Source: journalnow.com, "Wells: Know the basics of estate administration", Mike Wells, June 7, 2015