After a person dies, their estate must go through an official legal process before it is distributed to beneficiaries.
This process ensures that the estate pays its debts and gets distributed according to the decedent’s wishes if they left a will or state law if they did not leave a will. This process is called probate.
However, not all estates must go through probate in Texas.
Depending on the size of an estate, the types of assets within the estate, and the decedent’s estate plan, some estates can avoid the most burdensome aspects of the probate process.
Some smaller estates can avoid probate altogether and take advantage of a more simplified approach.
Creating an effective estate plan is the best way to prepare for probate. This is where our experienced probate attorneys can be invaluable.
When putting your plan together, it is critical to understand the answer to the question: How much does an estate have to be worth to go to probate?
What Is Probate?
Probate is the official court process of overseeing the administration of an estate in Texas. When someone dies, the probate court analyzes the decedent’s assets and assesses their value.
The court then attempts to ensure that the estate pays any remaining debts and taxes.
Once these steps are complete, the court can authenticate the will, if there is one, and distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries.
If there is no will, the court will distribute the assets as provided for by Texas law.
For some estates, the probate court simply approves or assigns an administrator to oversee an estate’s affairs.
In other cases, the court must micromanage the estate’s transactions to ensure compliance with the law.
The level of the probate court’s involvement in a given estate is primarily determined by how the estate was set up before the decedent’s death.
What Estates Can Avoid Probate in Texas?
In Texas, several factors determine whether an estate or its assets must go through the entire probate process. First, some property types are exempt from going through probate altogether.
Second, the beneficiaries of small estates with no will can file a small estate affidavit to avoid probate.
Certain assets do not need to go through the probate process in Texas. These assets are known as non-probate assets.
An estate can avoid probate if the entire estate is made up of non-probate assets. Jointly titled assets and certain assets with a named beneficiary fall under the non-probate asset category.
These assets include:
- Life insurance policies,
- Retirement accounts,
- Pay on death accounts,
- Transfer on death accounts,
- Property owned as a joint tenancy with rights of survivorship, and
- Life estates.
Creating a living trust is a common way to ensure certain assets avoid probate in Texas. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you establish a living trust.
Size of the Estate
Small estates can be distributed through a small estate affidavit in Texas. A small estate affidavit can also help you open an estate account without probate.
Small estates must have a total value of $75,000 or less. For the beneficiaries to be able to file a small estate affidavit, the decedent must have died without a will.
When calculating the total size of the estate, it is important not to include exempt property, homestead property, or any other property that is not subject to probate.
Since a small estate affidavit requires that there is no will, it is crucial to determine if you are an heir under Texas intestate succession laws before moving ahead with the affidavit process.
An experienced estate attorney can help you determine if a small estate affidavit is appropriate for your situation.
How Much Does Probate Cost?
Every estate is different, and the total costs of going through probate are challenging to predict. Factors that affect the costs of probate include:
- Whether a will is contested,
- How many creditors’ claims the estate is subject to,
- The assets contained within the estate,
- The level of involvement of the courts,
- The value of the estate, and
- How the estate plan is set up.
A well-crafted estate plan can avoid many of the costs associated with probate. One of the best ways to reduce probate costs is to elect for independent estate administration when writing your will.
Dependent Administration of an Estate
During the dependent administration of a will, the estate’s representative must get court approval for most transactions engaged in by the estate.
Getting authorization from Texas probate courts before engaging in most transactions adds costs to the probate process in terms of both time and money.
In most cases, it is preferable to avoid dependent administration if possible.
Independent Administration of an Estate
An estate can be administered independently if either the decedent specifies it in their will or all beneficiaries agree to it.
During independent administration of an estate, the estate’s representative can engage in most transactions without seeking approval from the probate court.
Independent administration can save beneficiaries a significant amount of time and money.
Contact Massingill Attorneys and Counselors at Law
Since an estate of any value can go through probate, it is crucial to develop an effective and efficient estate plan instead of passing the burden onto your loved ones.
A well-crafted estate plan can save your family time, money, and added heartache.
If you need to create an estate plan, Massingill Attorneys & Counselors at Law can help.
At Massingill, we strive to make the complex simple so that you can focus on the big picture while we take care of the details.
Our experienced probate attorneys can help you distribute your assets, avoid legal disputes, and leave a bigger legacy for your loved ones.