Probate is the legal process that begins when a person, called the decedent, passes away. Probate administration resolves any debt and taxes on the estate, and where directed, distributes devises and legacies. Probating a Will is the procedure the court takes to verify the authenticity of the Will. If the estate does not have a Will, the court will appoint an executor to oversee the probate process and the intestate succession of inheritances.
For Texas families who have lost a loved one, probate can be difficult to handle during the grieving process. As it can also be time-consuming and complex, the assistance of an experienced estate law attorney serving the Dallas and Fort Worth communities can help expedite the process and clear up any legal entanglements.
The stages of probate
The first step in probate administration is determining whether the Will is testate, or has a Will, or that it is intestate, or has no Will. If there is a Will, the decedent will often leave instructions with the executor that include the location of important documents. In Texas, estates with less than $75,000 in assets may file a small estate affidavit in lieu of probate.
Once the Will has been authenticated, the court gives Letters Testamentary to the executor, officially granting him legal authority to act as personal representative (PR) of the estate. The PR first publishes a death notice so that heirs, creditors and other interested parties are informed of the death.
The PR must inventory the assets and debt in order to come up with a valuation of the estate. This is done not only for tax purposes, but also to verify if the estate is solvent and can cover debts and funeral expenses. As the valuation must be accurate, it may include an appraisal for jewelry and other valuables.
Once this is done, the PR then pays all bills and taxes. With the new tax law, federal taxes are not owed for estates valued at less than $11.2 million, but more than one year of taxes may be owed if the decedent passed away before the filing deadline of the previous year.
After all bills and taxes are settled, the PR’s responsibility is to distribute remaining assets to beneficiaries with the court’s oversight. After this is done, the PR will make a final accounting to submit to the court that includes legal and accounting expenses, receipts for funeral costs, receipts and releases from beneficiaries, and final tax returns. Once the court formally closes the estate, the probate process is done.