WHAT IS PROBATE?
Probate is proving what you own, what you are owed and who should get your property after the bills are paid. If you leave $50,000 or less, probate can be as simple as filing an Affidavit of Small Estate.
What about taxes?
Many people confuse probate with estate taxes. While the federal estate tax exemption was once as low as $600,000, in 2016 it is $5.45 million, $10.9 million for a married couple. That federal exemption will rise with inflation. Texas has no estate or inheritance tax.
Does someone have to go to court to settle my affairs?
If you have a valid Will providing for an independent administration without bond which says that the only court involvement will be to probate and record your will and to receive any required inventory, appraisement and list of claims, that is what will happen.
The person settling your affairs will only need to go to court once. He will spend less time in court than it takes to drink a cup of coffee. His only other contact with the court can be signing affidavits which are electronically filed by the probate lawyer.
Is probate expensive?
A valid Will with the right language and a properly signed and notarized affidavit, a transfer on death or “Lady Bird” deed and correctly named beneficiaries on your bank and brokerage accounts will make probate faster, cheaper and easier. Your family can be provided for. Your property can pass the way you want.
Is it hard?
Texas probate can be easy. The person you name to settle your affairs, your executor, will receive court papers allowing him to deal with your property. He may ask an attorney to e-file affidavits and requests, prepare your estate’s tax return and present your Will in court.
Your probate attorney can ask the court to set aside an allowance to support your family for a year. She can ask the court to exempt your homestead and other items altogether. She can place the required newspaper notice to unsecured creditors and negotiate with them. She can make sure that things run smoothly, letting your family focus on memories.
What if I don’t have a will?
If you do not leave a valid Will – or if no one can find the original — probate takes a little longer and costs a good deal more. The court must appoint an attorney to help find possible missing heirs or people who are unable to speak for themselves. The search must be announced in the newspaper. Perhaps most important, your property may be divided differently than you imagine or intend. Texas Rules of Descent derive from those of the King of Spain and the Visigoths, who conquered much of Spain over 1,000 years ago.
It’s never too early to plan for your future.
Planning can give you a sense of control and make life easier for those you leave behind.