Probate is the court process that is required to pass a person’s assets when they are no longer around (or unable to) provide their own signature. When a loved one passes away with assets owned in their own name, and they had not taken measures to avoid the probate process, his or her family likely has a court date in their future. Not everyone’s probate experience is the same, but some certainly have less than pleasant tales to tell.
Below are some tips to help ensure that the probate process runs as smooth as possible for your family:
1. Don’t delay
Texas law imposes a four-year deadline to probate a will. If a family attempts to probate a will after this four-year period, the court may treat the deceased’s estate as if there was no will at all.
To make matters worse, the time required to move through the probate process varies, and is dependent upon the court’s schedule. Since March, the court has been very short-staffed because of Covid-19 and the probate process is taking longer than usual. Getting started as soon as possible ensures the process gets moving.
2. Open probate even if you are a Surviving Spouse
Even if a husband and wife owned real property together, probate is likely required to pass title to the other. When spouses fail to open probate, at best they risk their loved ones having to open two probates once they both pass, and at worst, they risk having the first spouse’s estate pass to unintended beneficiaries.
3. Pick the right lawyer
Choosing the right probate lawyer can make a big difference in ensuring your family gets through the probate process in a timely fashion. Unlike typical court cases, probate cases don’t have filing deadlines, so lawyers who handle many types of cases often prioritize those with deadlines. Be sure the lawyer you contact focuses in this area of the law and will make a point to be proactive with your case. Confirm that they will stay in regular communication with you and are easy to contact too.
4. Communicate Openly with all Heirs
Sometimes you may be required to split an inheritance with a person (or people) who you don’t like or trust. If this is the case, be certain to make sure that everyone is informed and aware of updates. Use group email to send documents and “reply all” with any questions so that everyone can benefit from the answers and is on the same page.
5. Place estate funds in an estate account
Once a person has died, it may be tempting to continue using their existing bank account if someone else has signing privileges on it, but doing so is risky. Commingling funds opens up the estate to claims that the money is not being divided equally, and if the person with joint privileges passes before the estate is settled, there is a question of who owns the money. The best course is to apply for an employer identification number and open an account in the name of the estate, so that the estate account can properly receive and disburse all funds as required.
To learn more about how it may be possible to avoid probate or simplify the process, please join Solak Legal’s next FREE online event, “Tips & Tricks to Avoid Probate,” on Wednesday, November 18th at 4:30. A replay will be provided to all registered participants. Email Jennifer@solaklegal.com to register.
The information in this column, which was sponsored by Solak Legal as part of The Leader Expert Series, is intended to provide a general understanding of the law and not legal advice. Readers with legal questions should consult attorneys for advice on their particular circumstances. Jennifer Solak provides legal advice for families and businesses and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 713-588-5744.