At Sheehan Law, PLLC, we are always mindful of our clients’ needs, especially during extremely difficult and emotionally trying times. This is especially true when one of our valued client’s family member or loved one passes away. During these times, we strive to lessen the burdens our clients face, especially with respect to legal matters. We believe that families should have quality time to grieve and focus on each other rather than try to navigate the Texas probate system on their own – a complex and trying process. We want our clients to have confidence in our ability to navigate the probate system with efficiency and proficiency to achieve the best possible outcome under the circumstances.
What is Probate?
While estate planning occurs prior to one’s death (e.g., executing wills, trusts, advanced directives, etc.), probate and estate administration occurs after an individual passes away. Essentially, probate is the process by which the assets and debts of the decedent are distributed or transferred after death. The process is also referred to as the administration of one’s estate and sometimes called “going through probate.” The probate process accomplishes the following objectives: It establishes the validity of the decedent’s will (if he or she had one); it determines the decedent’s legal heirs if no estate planning was executed prior to death; it identifies the assets and debts that comprise the decedent’s estate (known as the inventory); it pays the necessary debts; and lastly, it distributes the estate to those entitled to receive it.
The probate process is necessary when the decedent leaves behind any assets that require a transfer of title to some other person or entity (e.g., a vehicle registered solely in the decedent’s name must be transferred to someone else). This situation triggers court intervention. However, it should be noted that court involvement does not necessarily mean that there is dispute over a will or some other adversarial situation. Texas law simply requires court oversight and involvement in all situations where any of a decedent’s assets are not distributed via a valid Trust Agreement.
Probate is “independent” or “dependent.” Fortunately, the State of Texas allows for “independent administration” of the majority of estates. In an independent administration, the appointed independent executor manages the decedent’s assets, pays any outstanding debts, files required tax returns and various court documents, and distributes the assets of the estate with little to no judicial oversight. In a dependent administration, the probate judge must approve every detail of the estate administration.
At Sheehan Law, PLLC, we help clients navigate the probate process and provide comprehensive guidance every step of the way. We assist executors and family members get through this complex maze.
The Probate Process May be Straightforward or Contested
Although many probates are relatively routine procedures, such as when the deceased left a properly drafted will, some probate procedures may be challenged by rival heirs (known as a “contested probate”). In other cases, an estate distribution may not be challenged, but it may be complicated for a number of other reasons. For example, when an individual passes away without leaving behind a valid will, Texas law dictates that proceedings must take place in order to declare heirship. In certain circumstances, this may require an attorney to conduct a genealogy research.
In these situations, it is critical to seek the legal advice of an attorney specializing in probate law. State and federal probate laws and regulations change regularly; and it is important to hire an attorney familiar with the current law and who has ample experience with the Texas probate system.
All too often, “general” practitioners include estate planning as part of their repertoire of services. This is unfortunate and only serves as a disservice to those individuals who seek competent, thoughtful, and thorough estate planning advice. And, even more unfortunately, if an inexperienced attorney makes a mistake or omission when drafting estate planning documents, the oversight often is not discovered until the client passes away. At that point, those left behind are stuck with trying to right the wrong.
Austin probate lawyer Farren Sheehan handles a wide range of probate issues that include simple and highly complicated procedures, as well as contested probates and other litigation involving decedents’ estates.
Contact Us Today
If you recently lost a loved one and do not know where to begin, contact us today to see how we can help you work through probate issues.