Families may have to deal with multiple legal issues regarding property when a loved one passes away. If the deceased left a will, the document can simplify the distribution of assets.
However, the mere existence of a will does not necessarily permit the family to immediately execute the expressed wishes in the document. The types of assets, the size of the estate and the steps the deceased took to draft the will affect whether the estate goes into probate.
What is probate?
Probate is the legal process of verifying a person’s will to ensure its validity and execute its instructions. When someone in Texas passes away, their assets could require probate through the state courts.
Typically, the Texas Estates Code requires this process for assets with titles in the deceased’s name. Executors file with the court and present the will for validation. If the court approves the will, the document becomes public, enabling a smooth transfer of assets.
Why might people want to avoid probate?
Families might seek to bypass probate due to its time-consuming and public nature. The process of validation and possible disputes could result in delays and the disclosure of personal details. Alternatives to probate often ensure a more efficient and private transition of assets.
However, it appears that many families are not aware of methods to avoid probate because of a lack of education or preparation. Findings from the 2021 Texas Judicial Branch saw a 19% rise in the number of probate cases from the previous year. Practical steps can allow a family to keep certain assets or even a whole estate out of probate.
When can assets avoid probate in Texas?
To avoid probate, individuals often employ strategies that enable assets to pass directly to heirs without court intervention. For example, life insurance proceeds, IRAs and retirement accounts pass directly to designated beneficiaries. An individual might choose to put an inheritance in these vehicles to circumvent the probate process.
Further, jointly-held properties with survivorship rights automatically transfer to the surviving owner without court involvement. Trusts offer another avenue, guiding asset distribution per trust terms. Real property can skip probate using Transfer on Death or Lady Bird Deeds that specify beneficiaries.
Another situation that exempts an estate from the probate process is if no will exists and the estate’s total value is less than $75,000. In such cases, the inheritors only need to file an affidavit with the court to collect the property 30 days after the death.
These alternatives facilitate a smoother and more direct transfer of assets, eliminating the need for the formal probate process. Understanding these circumstances empowers individuals to navigate estate matters efficiently and honor the wishes of the deceased.