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Still, understanding the probate process is the first step to successfully getting through it. A Houston probate lawyer can help you take the next steps forward by helping you navigate the process. Contact Stafford Law Firm today. We represent clients in Houston and surrounding areas.

Our Sincerest Condolences

Our deepest sympathies to you and your family — the last thing anyone wants to deal with after the passing of a loved one is navigating probate matters. We truly understand the emotional conflict that family members face during this difficult time. Our estate planning team in Houston, TX, is here to provide compassionate legal services to help families navigate the probate process and settle their loved one’s estate in the best way possible.

What is Probate?

Probate is the process by which a deceased person’s will is authenticated and administered, subjecting it to the taxes and debts the deceased owed at the time of death and ensuring remaining assets are distributed to beneficiaries according to the terms of the document. If an individual died without a will in Houston, TX, probate could also involve determining the lawful heirs of the deceased according to the laws of intestate succession.

Here’s what probate in Houston, TX, looks like:

  • A representative for the deceased’s estate (or executor) submits to the court the deceased’s last will and testament to ensure that the document meets the state’s standards for a validly executed will
  • The representative notifies all of the deceased’s heirs and creditors that the will has been submitted
  • Ownership of the deceased’s assets is transferred to the estate
  • All debts and taxes owed by the deceased are paid to creditors
  • Assets are distributed to the deceased’s beneficiaries

Planning an inheritance for your loved ones may not be challenging, but it does require some forethought. With proper planning, an estate could avoid probate altogether. If you’re looking for ways to avoid probate or are the representative of an estate headed for probate, a Houston estate planning and probate lawyer can provide information and assistance. Reach out today for a free consultation.

The Probate Process In Houston, TX

When someone dies, their estate can enter the probate process. This process, facilitated by the Houston, TX court system, determines what will happen with any property owned or owed by the deceased. The probate process can be initiated by the “estate executor” or any other interested parties that may gain something from the will. It’s often required to prove the legitimacy of a will, assist in the accurate appraisal of assets, ensure debts and taxes are paid, and that the estate assets are distributed respectfully as per the deceased’s will and Texas probate law.

Why You Should Avoid Probate

Going through the probate process can be helpful or detrimental, depending on the circumstances. In situations where there was no will, no executor, or the estate is very complex, avoiding probate may NOT be possible. The state’s assistance in handling the estate, the appraisal, and the distribution of assets can be beneficial. But that isn’t always the case. The probate process can involve countless meetings with probate attorneys and court proceedings that carry on for months or years after losing a loved one. The process can take a LONG time. Precious assets are tied up, waiting to be distributed, and legal fees begin slowly deducting from the estate’s total value. In Houston, TX, this process can be avoided with a proper estate plan.

Can a Lawyer Help Me Avoid Probate in Houston, TX?

Yes, a Houston probate lawyer will be familiar with the legal options that can serve as an alternative to probate and help the loved ones and friends of the deceased to fairly distribute the assets without subjecting these assets to a long and exhaustive probate process. To do so, your probate attorney will need to know more about the assets you have and your long-term goals.

If you are a personal representative of an estate in Houston, TX, a probate lawyer can provide valuable probate services that include:

  • Advising you of the options available at every step of the process so that your decisions are informed
  • Completing the paperwork that you must submit to the court
  • Providing service to all the necessary parties.
  • Giving advice and assistance focused on the named executor and ensuring that they proceed properly with the estate’s representation

Many times, the probate process gets confusing. Efforts can be duplicated, and requirements can be missed. Having an attorney to assist you helps to ensure that the process remains organized and time and effort are well spent.

How Can I Avoid Probate in Houston, TX?

The following documents can help you avoid probate:

  • A revocable living trust: This document transfers the assets to a trust while the owner of the assets is still alive. Upon death, the assets are distributed according to the terms of the trust and do not have to go through the probate process. This option is particularly beneficial when a family-owned business with an aging owner wishes to transfer ownership of the company to their adult children. The children could be named as trustees, ensuring continuity if the owner becomes incapacitated or dies far better than the probate process would
  • Payable on death and survivorship accounts: These documents are provided to financial institutions to effect a transfer of assets to a beneficiary outside the probate process

Other documents can also help you or your loved ones avoid the time-consuming and expensive probate process. A qualified financial planner or estate planning probate lawyer can help you explore your options.

How Does Probate in Houston, TX Begin?

A person must initiate the probate process to begin. The Houston, TX courts will inspect the deceased’s last will. The person listed in the will as an “executor” or “personal representative” can begin the probate process. If there was no valid will established, the courts generally follow a standard order of hierarchy, beginning with the deceased’s spouse, then adult children, and so on.

When an individual is ready to initiate the probate process, they must have an attorney prepare the legal documentation and file it with the probate court. Advance notice may need to be given to interested parties before probate is officially opened, depending on family and estate circumstances. Be sure you are choosing the best probate process for the estate to reduce the amount of time spent in court and help bring closure to your family as soon as possible. If you need help navigating the probate process, reach out to an experienced probate attorney at Stafford Law Firm.

Choosing an Executor

In an ideal situation, the deceased individual would have created a detailed estate plan or had a will professionally drafted before their death. Once proven valid in court, a will would recognize the executor or personal representative based on the last recorded wishes of the deceased. If the person appointed as an executor is unable or unwilling to serve, or if there is no will, probate courts will have to select another executor. This may be another family member, relative, trusted friend, or third-party professional.

Does the Executor Get Paid?

In Houston, TX, reasonable compensation can be awarded to any executors for time spent administering the estate. However, the executor does not have to be paid. Often surviving spouses or family members refuse to take any payment for the estate’s handling.

What If I Make a Mistake as an Executor?

Serving the role of an executor in the probate process is no simple task. An executor is responsible for following comprehensive rules and procedures per the Probate Code. There are also precise deadlines that must be met when filing papers through the courts or providing notice to all interested parties. If the executor fails to comply with the strict probate rules or refuses to, they can be held personally liable for any loss incurred by the estate. Retaining the services of an estate planning attorney would be to your advantage, as a law firm will have the necessary resources you need.

Will a Houston, TX Estate Enter Probate if My Loved One Had a Trust?

In some cases, if your loved one has left behind a trust, you will not have to go through the probate process. But the trust must include all property owned by the deceased. To avoid probate, ALL assets must be appropriately titled in the name of the trust. Not all estate planning attorneys ensure that every asset is covered and that beneficiaries are appropriately designated.

It happens all too often. We see families that worked hard to do the right thing; they created a trust to prepare for the inevitable. When the time comes to administer the trust, they are shocked to learn that the trust is insufficient. Maybe the beneficiaries were not adequately designated, or some important assets were overlooked. Now the family is forced to enter the probate process against their deceased loved one’s best wishes. How does this happen? Why does this happen? Time can play a huge part in the validity of trusts. Over time, a person’s assets change, state and federal laws change, and a trust becomes increasingly outdated. It’s essential to conduct regular reviews with your estate planning attorney. They can help ensure that your plan goes as planned.

What Assets Have To Go Through the Probate Process?

Any asset owned solely by the deceased person can be subject to probate. In the case of assets designated as “joint tenants with right of survivorship,” the assets may be passed to the surviving joint owner and may be able to avoid probate. In addition, any asset with a “transfer on death” or “pay on death” can follow the same process. They are typically seen with life insurance and retirement accounts.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen so smoothly. Depending on the situation, even assets given a proper title or beneficiary designation may have to go through the probate process. If you have questions about your specific situation, please visit our law office and contact our experienced probate attorney.

What Happens During Probate if There Was No Will?

Any assets that enter the probate process will be distributed according to state law if there is no will or trust established to determine who will receive the assets. This means the court will be deciding who gets what in the estate. The standard hierarchy chain would allow the surviving spouse to be granted any assets that went into probate. Next, (if there is no surviving spouse) it would be divided among any children, then on to other relatives. Nowadays, people have some complex family trees.

In a case when there is a living parent of the deceased person – If the surviving spouse is (a) not the parent of your children, or (b) there are no children, some states may split the estate between the living parent and the surviving spouse. Similarly, special formulas determine who gets what if the surviving spouse has children who were not your children. You can’t always predict how the court will handle the probate — This is why it’s so important to make these plans for you and your family ahead of time.

How Long Does Probate Take? How Much Does It Cost?

The standard probate process in Houston, TX, takes about six to 12 months. This is for a simple, straightforward estate with minimal complexities. If beneficiaries are disputing over assets or property that exists across multiple states, the process can take two years or longer. As for the cost of probate, it’s difficult to predict precisely how much this can cost you as each situation can vary greatly.

Some typical probate costs to keep in mind are:

  • Court filing fees
  • Attorney fees
  • Appraisal fees
  • Professional fees (i.e., tax preparation)
  • Executor compensation
  • Document certification fees
  • Recording fees

In some states, the costs are based on a percentage of the probate assets; in others, the fees are as per the statutory schedule. Houston probate lawyers can help you expedite probate and avoid probate litigation so that you can more quickly put this all behind you.

Finding the Best Houston Probate Lawyer for You

Your best chance at smoothly navigating the estate administration process is with an experienced probate attorney. How do you choose the right probate attorney? One important thing to watch for is law firms that don’t specialize in probate, trusts, estate planning, etc. An attorney who does not primarily focus on estate planning and probate may overlook many additional complexities in the estate administration process. One small mistake can delay the entire process, costing you precious time and money.

You do not have to hire the same attorney that helped draft a trust or a will. While we also offer those services if you have not used us before, we are still able to step in for the estate administration process. You have the right to shop around and find a probate attorney with whom you feel comfortable. Find one that gives you the confidence that they will do everything in their power to get you the best possible outcome.

Stafford Law Firm: Houston Probate Lawyers Here To Support You

Whenever you need to reach out to our law office, you can be sure you won’t need to wait for hours or days to get a response. Here at Stafford Law Firm, we pride ourselves on being easily accessible and responding to all client inquiries as soon as possible. The fact of the matter is, one day, you will need to fall back on your estate plan.

Whether it is simply to pass on your family’s wealth after your death or something even more heartbreaking like needing a new guardian appointment for your children, having a thorough and customized plan in place will help ensure your family and your future are well taken care of. This plan will often need to include one or several different trusts, and you can rest easy knowing that an experienced Houston probate lawyer has your best interests at heart.

Our team has been practicing law for years. We provide tailored legal representation and probate services so that you can focus on your family during this difficult time. Reach out today for a free consultation. You can also read our blog and watch our videos, where we share a lot of helpful information about probate and estate administration.

Find Our Law Office At:

Stafford Law Firm
9601 Katy Freeway, Suite 470
Houston, TX 77024

Frequently Asked Questions

If you are worried that your loved ones may have to face probate after you pass away, or if you are working on the affairs of someone who has recently passed, a probate attorney can greatly assist you. The probate process can be long, heartbreaking, and riddled with legal formalities. An experienced probate attorney can help you either prevent this process for those you leave behind or help navigate the process after losing a loved one.

Probate is a complicated process, but some assets are generally not subject to it. Some of those assets include:

  • Retirement accounts
  • Life insurance proceeds
  • Property that is contained in a living trust
  • Pension plan distributions

There are many situations where probate is unavoidable, but this is only sometimes the case. With careful planning and the assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney, you can completely protect your loved ones from having to deal with probate after you pass away. The utilization of trusts, gifts and joint ownership of property are some common tools.

The best way to avoid probate is careful estate planning. It can be incredibly time-consuming and exhausting for surviving heirs after a loved one’s death. Some solutions commonly used are trusts and wills, drafted with detail and kept up to date.

“Rights of survivorship” must be established on any joint accounts to potentially avoid entering probate. In Houston, TX, rights of survivorship are not established by default. It must be specified in the account paperwork upon creation.

Absolutely. Anytime an executor or personal representative begins the Houston, TX probate process, they must be represented by a lawyer. Keep in mind that executors can be held responsible for losses to the estate if they fail to comply with the rules, so it’s best to hire a board certified estate planning lawyer early in the probate process.

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