It is likely with great sorrow that you said goodbye to your parents. Perhaps you have reached the age where many of your friends are losing their parents, and you knew it wouldn't be long before you experienced the loss yourself.
Whether your last living parent fell ill or died suddenly, you are probably feeling many emotions. You and your siblings and extended family may be spending hours reminiscing about the good times and going through your parent's things to decide what to keep and what to donate; but wait, before you dispose of anything in your parent's house, his or her Texas estate must go through probate.
What is probate?
After someone passes away, there is a legal process in place for completing that person's business and distributing his or her property appropriately. If your loved one had a will, probate is a little easier because the court will not have to judge who gets what or guess what the deceased's wishes might have been. Probate may take many months or even years if the estate is complicated or if the potential heirs begin to fight over the process. Generally, probate follows these steps:
- The probate judge examines your parent's will and determines if it is valid by authenticating the signature and verifying that no other wills exist for your loved one.
- If your loved one named an executor in the will, the judge will officially appoint that person to handle the nuts and bolts of the process. If the will does not name someone, the judge will appoint the most logical person, which may be you or one of your siblings.
- The executor will gather your parent's assets, have them appraised and protect them until probate ends. This is why it may be better to wait before cleaning out the house or giving away valuables.
- If your loved one had any outstanding bills, debts or taxes, the executor is responsible for verifying that they are valid and paying them in the proper order according to the law. This may include the federal estate tax, if it applies.
It may be necessary to sell some assets if there is not enough money to cover all the obligations, which is another reason to wait before giving things away. Additionally, creditors have a certain amount of time, usually four to six months, to file a claim against the estate. This is part of the reason why probate takes so long.
What if my parent had no will?
Once the executor satisfies all the debts, files the final tax return and contacts all the heirs, he or she can distribute the assets according to the will. However, if your parent did no estate planning, a Texas court typically divides the assets among the closest relatives. If your family has a history of disagreements, this could lead to disputes and even litigation. It is not unheard of for heirs to obtain individual legal counsel to protect their inheritance rights throughout the probate process.