We Provide Reliable Probate Law Services in San Antonio and Throughout South Central Texas
Dealing with the loss of a loved one is difficult enough without worrying about navigating your way through the probate courts and understanding property distribution laws. Allow us to take that burden from you. Whether your loved one died with or without a will, we will navigate the path for you, educating you along the way.
At Weisinger Law Firm, PLLC, our San Antonio probate law attorneys represent people and families with care, compassion, and the highest level of professional skill. We are here to make sure that you understand the process and that your rights are fully protected. To set up a free, strictly confidential initial meeting with an experienced Texas probate lawyer, please do not hesitate to contact us today.
What is Probate and How Does it Work in Texas?
One of the most common questions that people have about estate planning and estate administration: What is probate? The simplest answer is that probate is the legal process whereby a judge determines whether or not a recently deceased person has a valid will and appoints a representative (an executor) to administer the estate. In effect, the executor is responsible for ensuring that the proper beneficiaries get their rightful share of the assets and property.
You may be wondering: Is probate complex? The answer depends entirely on the specific circumstances of the case. Probate is a technical and often paperwork-intensive process. Though, there are some estates that are relatively straightforward. Still, in Texas, probate can quickly become complicated, particularly if there are multiple beneficiaries, unusual assets, questions about the meaning or validity of the will, claims from outside creditors, or a dispute between family members.
Probate Property and Non-Probate Property: Understanding the Difference
When a person passes away, any property they owned must be distributed to their heirs or to the beneficiaries they have listed in a will or in other beneficiary documents. There are two basic types of property to be concerned with: Probate and Non-Probate. In other words, not all property is subject to the probate process. Here is basic overview of the difference between probate property and non-probate property:
- Probate Property: Probate property covers assets that are owned solely and directly by the decedent. This type of probate comes in a wide range of different forms. Indeed, it usually encompasses any or all following: real estate, motor vehicles, cash, stocks and bonds. Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list. In organizing an estate for the probate process, an executor is responsible for identifying all of the assets that are included within the state.
- Non-Probate Property: Non-Probate property usually consists of items such as: life insurance, bank accounts, IRA accounts, 401K accounts and other investment accounts. These are classified as non-probate properties because you typically sign a beneficiary agreement with the financial institution when you open the accounts. In addition, assets held by a legally valid trust can also avoid the probate process. These agreements override a Last Will and Testament for the purpose of the specific account. Non-probate assets are usually distributed after the financial institution receives a death certificate.
Taking inventory of an estate can be a difficult, time-consuming task. You may even have trouble tracking down assets. Further, it is not always easy to determine what constitutes probate property or non-probate property. If you have any specific questions about what property is subject to the probate process, reach out to an experienced San Antonio probate lawyer for help.
The probate process with a will
The process may sound difficult and stressful, but we walk family members through every step of it as carefully and swiftly as possible. The first step in the Probate Process is to determine whether or not the decedent had a Will. If there is a Will, we confirm that it meets all the requirements of a valid Will. If so, the process is fairly simple. We file an application with the Probate Court with the original Will at the Probate Clerk’s office. The clerk posts notice that an application to probate the Will has been filed. About two weeks later, the court holds a hearing in which the person named Executor in the Will appears. After the Executor takes an Oath, the clerk will issue Letters Testamentary. These letters give the Executor the authority to step in the shoes of the decedent and gather the property. The Executor then has the job of notifying creditors of the estate. Once the Executor gathers all of the probate assets, the Executor must file an Inventory with the court describing the probate assets in the estate. After the court has approved the Inventory, the Executor can pay the debts of the estate and distribute the remaining assets according to the terms of the Decedent’s Will.
The probate process without a will
When a person passes away without a Will, the process is more complicated. We must first determine the familial and marital history of the decedent. Next, we file an Application to Determine Heirship in order to establish who the heirs of the estate are. In most cases, we simultaneously file an Application for Letters of Administration to ask the court to appoint our client as Administrator to handle the affairs of the estate. We will need two witnesses who knew the Decedent (but are not direct heirs) to sign affidavits detailing the Decedent’s familial and marital history.
The court will then appoint an Attorney Ad Litem to verify the familial history and research any unknown heirs of the Decedent. Once the Attorney Ad Litem concludes the research, a hearing will be held. At the hearing the Applicant for Administrator, the two witnesses, and the Attorney Ad Litem all appear.
At the end of this hearing, the Judge will sign the Judgment Declaring Heirship and the Order Appointing Administrator of the Estate. If all of the heirs agree, the Administrator is usually appointed as Independent Administrator. However, in some circumstances, the court requires Dependent Administration.
Dependent Administration requires court approval for every significant action pertaining to the estate. After taking an oath and possibly posting a bond, the court will issue Letters of Administration. These Letters allow the Administrator to gather the assets of the estate. Once the assets are gathered, the Administrator must file an inventory with the court. After the inventory is approved, the Administrator can pay the debts of the estate and distribute the remaining assets to the heirs of the estate.
There are often alternatives to the formal probate process. These alternatives depend on the circumstances surrounding each case. A few of the alternatives are Affidavits of Heirship, Small Estate Affidavit, and Muniment of Title proceedings. We will be happy to consult with you to determine the best path for your situation.
Helping People With Probate Disputes and Litigation
We have extensive experience helping people navigate the probate process. Unfortunately, in some cases, disputes can arise. You may even end up in probate litigation. This can happen for a number of different reasons. As an example, if the executor does not follow the will, you may need to take legal action to protect your inheritance rights. Alternatively, a probate dispute may involve allegations of undue influence, conflict with creditors, or disputes over ambiguous terms in the will. No matter the circumstances, our San Antonio probate litigation attorneys can help.
You Can Rely on Weisinger Law Firm for Probate Guidance
We understand how stressful and overwhelming it can be to deal with complex legal issues after losing a loved one. At Weisinger Law Firm, PLLC, our estate planning team is here to protect you and help you get through the probate process. We are ready to get started working with you right away. More specifically, our San Antonio probate law attorneys will:
- Listen to your story and answer your question;
- Explain your rights and options in the probate process;
- Gather all documents, records, and information;
- Complete paperwork and legal filings; and
- Take the appropriate steps to help you and your family efficiently navigate probate.
Every probate matter is different. Our law firm understands that one-size-fits-all guidance is not effective for estate planning matters or probate cases. You deserve personalized support. With a record of testimonials from clients, we encourage you to reach out to our probate lawyers to learn more about how our team can help.
Contact Our San Antonio Probate Lawyers for Immediate Assistance
At Weisinger Law Firm, PLLC, our Texas probate attorneys help our clients navigate complex property distribution laws. If you have questions or concerns about the probate process, we are more than happy to help. Contact our firm today for a free, completely private consultation. With an office in Selma, we serve clients throughout the region, including in San Antonio, Garden Ridge, Shavano Park, New Braunfels, Schertz, Bulverde, Hill Country Village, Terrell Hills, Hollywood Park, Alamo Heights, Windcrest, and Cibolo Estate.