Probate Without a Will and Intestate Administration
Overview: When a Loved-One Left No Will
With few exceptions, when a person passes away, his or her estate must be “probated”. The word “probate”, literally translated, means to “prove”. If a person left a will, then it means to “prove” the validly of the will. If a person did not have a will, then it means to prove the identity of the persons who are entitled to inherit under the Texas default laws of inheritance. Today, the meaning of the term “probate” is much broader than it used to be. It now refers more generally to the legal process of settling the affairs of a person after they die and then transferring title and possession of the person’s property to their lawful heirs.
The probate process involves different procedures depending on whether or not the deceased individual left a will. Today, approximately, 60% of individuals pass away without a will. This is generally referred to as dying “intestate“. When this occurs, the person’s estate will be distributed in accordance with the Texas laws of intestate succession, which is the default inheritance scheme set up by the Texas legislature for when a person did not leave a valid will. When the Texas legislature created these laws, they essentially made their best guess as to how they thought most people would want their property distributed after they were gone. To find out who inherits under the Texas law of intestate distribution, please read this link, which describes who inherits under Texas law.
The probate of an estate without a will generally must proceed through three steps. These are 1) the determination of heirship, 2) the administration of the estate, and 3) the distribution of property to the lawful heirs.
Court Order Determining Heirs aka The Determination of Heirship
In Texas, the first step in probating the estate of someone who dies without a will is to file an application with either the local statutory probate court, or county court at law (depending on which county the person lived in) and request that the judge declare the names of persons who are entitled to inherit under the Texas laws of intestate succession. The attorney for the heirs generally uses written or oral testimony to prove who are the rightful heirs. For example, if a deceased person has no spouse, but has two children, then according to laws of intestacy, the two children each have a right to inherit 50% of the decedent’s property. The court will ask for oral or written statements from two disinterested persons who knew the deceased person and who can testify that the deceased person was not married and did not have more than two children. Once the judge is satisfied that there are not any long-lost missing spouses or additional children, then he or she will sign an order declaring that the two children are the only heirs and they each are entitled to half of the estate property. A copy of the judge’s written order will be given to all the heirs and will constitute proof of the transfer of ownership into the names of the heirs.
Usually, at the same that the judge declares who are lawful heirs, the judge will also appoint an “Administrator of the Estate“. After they receive the appointment, the clerk of court will then provide them or their attorney with what are called “letters of administration“. These are official court documents that give the administrator the legal authority to take charge of the estate property so that debts can be paid and the deceased person’s assets can be physically turned over to the heirs. By law, organization’s like banks, stock brokers, online accounts, credit card companies, and other businesses who would normally keep their client’s information confidential, must honor these letters and provide the administrator with access to the deceased person’s accounts and records.
During the administrative phase of the probate process, the administrator will work to settle the person’s affairs. This includes closing out bank and other financial accounts, filing a final tax return if necessary, and collecting any money that is owed to the estate. This administration process also includes paying off any legitimate debts from the deceased individual’s estate, but only if the deceased person owned enough assets to do so. In addition, the administer may obtain court permission to sell the person’s house, car, or any other item that cannot be easily divided and then distribute the proceeds the heirs instead of the actual property.
Distributing the Money and Property to the Lawful Heirs in Texas
Once the administrator has gathered all the estate money and property, and paid the person’s debts with the assets of the estate, then the next step is to distribute the left over property to the lawful heirs. For most estates, once all the money and property have been distributed, the probate process is essentially over. The last step is to file a final account and obtain and order from the court approving the final account and officially closing the estate
Contact the Law Offices of Joseph E. Seiler for a free one-half hour consultation on the probate process
To properly guide you through the probate process, from proving the will to settling and distributing the estate, an attorney should understand the nuances of the probate process as well as the technical issues involved legally transferring title into the names of his or heirs. At the Law Offices of Joseph E. Seiler, we make the time to explain each detail as we walk our clients though the probate process. We understand that individuals who need a probate lawyer often have just been through the difficulty of losing a loved one. Now, they are faced with having to go through the unfamiliar probate process. Mr. Seiler treats each of his clients with kindness and understanding and he strives to make the estate administration proceed as simply and efficiently as possible.
If you live in the Northwest Harris County area including Houston, Tomball, Hempstead, Brenham, or Cypress, Texas and you are interested in probating the estate of a loved-one who passed away without a will, then contact the Law Offices of Joseph E. Seiler for a free one-half hour strategy consultation. To schedule your free strategy session, please message us on our contact page or call (713) 343-1450.
State Bar of Texas
Texas Supreme Court
All Texas Appellate Courts
United State Federal Court for the Southern District of Texas
Houston Bar Association
Northwest Houston Bar Association
You will receive focused personal attention and speak directly with Mr. Seiler. Our attorney communicates promptly with each client, treats them with empathy, and is eager to help them with their legal needs. Through knowledgable and diligent representation, Mr. Seiler works to protect each client’s rights as he assists them with their legal matter. To schedule a free consultation with Mr. Seiler, please call (713) 343-1450.
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