When losing someone you love, the last thing you care about is probate and other legal formalities. However, compliance with the law is mandatory. To ensure it and avoid unnecessary hassles, you should consider consulting an Abilene probate lawyer. The latter will explain everything to you and, if you let them, take over all formalities. An experienced Texas probate lawyer will know how to best handle your deceased loved one’s will and any outstanding debts.
What is probate, what does it involve, and why should you call an Abilene probate lawyer at Eddington Worley? You will find the answers below.
Probate Law Introduction – Why Work with
an Abilene Probate Lawyer
The term “probate” describes the process of acknowledging the death of a person and winding up their estate. It can be easy or complicated, depending on two main factors:
- The size and complexity of the estate
- The involvement of a probate lawyer
Without an Abilene probate lawyer to guide their steps, many people feel overwhelmed and
The Probate Process through the Eyes of the Probate Attorneys in Abilene, TX
The term “estate” covers all the property and assets in a person’s possession at the time of their death. Common examples include:
- Real estate property (land, buildings, etc.)
- Assets (boats, vehicles, jewelry, art, books, etc.)
- Life insurance policies
- Retirement accounts
- Investments (stocks, bonds, cryptocurrency, etc.)
Under Texas law, when a person dies, their estate is gathered and used to pay any remaining debts. After the debts are paid, any remaining assets will go to the deceased’s surviving relatives. The distribution of the assets will follow the deceased’s will stipulations. If they did not leave a will, Texas intestate succession laws will prevail.
Assets Exempt from Probate
Not all assets part of the estate are subject to probate. Some of them follow a different regimen. Retirement accounts and life insurance policies are common exceptions to the rule when they have a beneficiary named. Let’s say the deceased had life insurance and appointed their spouse as a beneficiary. The insurance amount will not undergo probate. The beneficiary, namely the spouse, can claim it directly. The same situation applies to retirement accounts with appointed beneficiaries.
Other common examples of property exempted from probate are joint tenancies and community property with survivorship rights. The deceased’s interest in the property is considered to vanish when they pass away. The joint owner or the surviving spouse remains the sole owner. Trust funds and assets are other probate exemptions. They have a named trustee who will distribute all assets to the appointed beneficiaries.
Unfortunately, without a probate attorney to advise them, many people remain unaware of these exemptions. They fail to claim what is rightfully theirs and go crazy trying to find their way through the legal jungle. A single consultation with a probate attorney in Abilene could take them a long way in protecting their rights.
Probate Process Initiation
In Texas, the probate process begins when someone files an application with the probate court in their area. The application should include some basic information like:
- Death date
- The deceased’s address
- The heirs’ identities
If the deceased had a will, the applicant will have to submit a copy of it to the court. After application processing, the county clerk posts a courthouse notice to inform the public of the probate application. After a waiting period of approximately two weeks, the applicant will attend a hearing in front of a probate judge.
The purpose of the hearing is to allow the judge to choose an executor. If the deceased left a will, the judge will assess whether the executor is qualified for the task. If the deceased did not leave a will, the judge will have to appoint an executor. The executor gathers all assets and property, safeguard them, pay debts, and distributes the remaining assets.
In most cases, probate courts request executors to work with an Abilene probate lawyer to ensure they will fulfill their obligations. They also owe a duty to the deceased persons’ heirs and beneficiaries. Even when the court does not impose working with a probate attorney, doing it is a good idea. Their advice and experience will prove invaluable throughout the probate process.
Once they have appointed the executor, the probate judge must determine if the will is valid or not. Under Texas probate law, wills are valid only if they meet certain criteria. If they do not, the court will deny them. Assuming the court does admit the will as valid, the next step is the issuance of the Letters Testamentary. The executor will need them when they wind up the deceased’s financial matters.
As mentioned above, property identification is an important step in the probate process. The executor has to perform it as well. They will have to review papers, identify all financial accounts, and any money owed to the deceased. It is their duty to protect the deceased’s property against theft and damage.
After gathering all property, the executor has to provide the probate court with a complete estate inventory. They have 90 days from their appointment to complete and submit the inventory. To provide accurate data, they may need to appraise jewelry, real estate property, and other assets. If they work with a knowledgeable Abilene probate lawyer, the latter probably already has the necessary connections.
Debt Inventory and Payment
As explained above, the purpose of probate is to pay out the deceased’s death. To pay them, the executor needs to know what these are. They can be bills, loans, credit card debt, etc. Since creditors have the right to recover their money, when the debtor passes away, their heirs or executor need to notify them of the event.
How we Deal With Creditors
The best way to do that is to have an Abilene probate lawyer prepare and publish the Notice to Creditors in the local media. It is basically an announcement that also identifies the executor and mentions their probate attorney’s address. It also provides creditors with a deadline for filing their claim for payment with the estate.
Under Texas laws, creditors have different rights and fall into different classes. For example, any legal fees due to probate attorneys and executors come before other debts. This measure aims to secure the legal representation an executor may need during the probate process.
Once the executor and their probate lawyer have cashed in their legal fees, the rest of the creditors will follow. If the estate has sufficient cash, paying them will be easy. If not, the executor may pay them in assets or sell assets to obtain the necessary cash.
How we Deal With Assets
When the executor needs to liquidate assets, things get complicated. There could be beneficiaries waiting to inherit those assets or claiming they were worth more. In such cases, the executor should benefit from the advice of an experienced probate attorney. The latter will help them decide which assets to sell and how much these are worth.
Although the executor answers primarily to the court and not to the deceased heirs, their situation is quite tricky. They will need all the help they can get.
Does the Court Supervise the Probate Process?
When the deceased leaves a will, the executors usually become Independent Executors. They do not need the permission of the court to liquidate assets and pay debts. They also do not have to deposit a surety bond. This makes independent administration easier and cheaper.
Things get difficult when the deceased did not leave a will. The probate court supervises the process and has to approve every move of the executor. The only solution to bypass court supervision is subject to Texas probate law section 145. It allows the creation of an independent administration when all heirs agree.
Unfortunately, disputes often arise during the probate process. The heirs may contest the will, the deceased’s sanity when they prepared it, or the chosen executor. Different family members may fight over who should serve as an executor or how the latter should distribute assets. In some cases, the executor has no alternative but to sell all assets and distribute the money to the heirs.
This is the last and most important step of the probate process: the executor distributes assets according to the will. To do so, they have to cooperate with the beneficiaries and determine how the latter want their assets. As mentioned above, they could follow will stipulations, sell them, or convince beneficiaries to reach an agreement. In all cases, the advice of probate attorney can make a huge difference.
Seek Help from Experienced Probate Attorneys in Abilene
You already know what to expect from the probate process and how a probate attorney can help. Now, all you have left to do is find the one to work with. We recommend looking for experienced lawyers who are not afraid of disputes and complicated cases. This way, you make sure you get the best representation.
At Eddington & Worley Family Law, we have handled numerous probate cases. We would be happy to put our experience in your service. Call our office and schedule a consultation with one of our family law attorneys in Abilene. You have nothing to lose, but you will gain time and peace of mind!