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Houston Probate Attorney

Probate is a legal process initiated after a person has passed away.  A more detailed definition of probate is the legal process by which a decedent’s will is authenticated before a court of proper jurisdiction.   Harris County, Texas has four statutory probate courts.  There are seven crucial steps to probating a will.  The probate court first decides if a valid will exists, and if so, the court then appoints an executor or administrator.  The executor, often a relative or close friend of the deceased, must complete the seven probate steps outlined below.  The family or executor to assist usually hires a probate lawyer to assist with the process.

The seven steps include:

  1. Identify, collect and protect the decedent’s assets, and initiate the probate proceedings.
  2. Notify creditors as required by Texas law, pay all uncontested creditors at the proper time, and contest claims that appear wrong.
  3. Inform the Social Security Administration, insurance companies, credit card companies and others about the death.
  4. File all required papers with the probate court, including an inventory and appraisement (unless otherwise instructed), a formal accounting and other legal documents.  Obtain a court order for distribution of assets to heirs and devisees.
  5. File the decedent’s final federal income tax return and pay any taxes owing.
  6. Determine who inherits property and assets.  If the will is unclear, investigate further and file legal proceedings if necessary.
  7. Supervise the final distribution of assets to the heirs and devisees, obtain receipts for distributions, and obtain a release from each heir and devisee releasing the executor from further responsibility.

When families are faced with the death of a loved one, it is beneficial to at least consult a Houston probate attorney because s/he can advise whether a formal probate proceeding is required, or if a lesser procedure can be used such as a small estate affidavit or muniment of title. Though the Texas Probate Code is generous in terms of the time provided for a family to probate a will, it is not infinite.  The deadline for probating a will is four years from the date the decedent passed away, and missing this deadline can have serious consequences.

There are also times when a family member passes away without a will.  This is called intestacy.  Probate lawyers also work with families under these conditions to bring closure to the decedent’s estate.