Your step-by-step guide to probate in Texas
How long does probate take in Texas?
Texas law offers a wide time frame to initiate probate: It must be done within four years of your loved one’s death.
There are three types of probate in Texas, with the quickest finishing within 30 days and the slowest stretching out for a year or more.
About 80 percent of estates opt for independent administration, a type of probate that requires little court supervision.
Once probate is initiated, there are eight major steps to complete to settle your loved one's financial and legal affairs.
How long does probate take in Texas? Like most states, that can vary widely, depending on the size of the estate and a number of other factors.
Texas state and local courts govern the various time periods that the executor must follow—and the state is very flexible on how soon you must initiate the process. Executors and administrators have four years from the date of death to begin, though most people file for probate within the first two months to one year of the death.
Perhaps the most important thing to know is that there are four different types of courts that handle probate cases in Texas. And if you start with the wrong one you can’t simply transfer your case—you’ll have to start the process over, which can significantly extend the probate timeline.
For this reason, verifying jurisdiction with the county clerk where your loved one lived or owned property is a crucial step before you begin.
An overview of Texas probate
Once you get started in the right place, the requirements for the executor or administrator are clearly laid out and fairly simple in most cases.
In Texas, there are three types of probate administration, depending on the type of court supervision required:
Muniment of title. If your loved one passed away without any debts, then this is the best option as it’s an expedited form of probate. So much so that everything can be wrapped up in 30 days. As long as you have the necessary evidence (for example, deeds to property and a valid will), the transfer of the estate is a relatively smooth process. Although it is advised that even if someone passes away with zero debt, complex estates should not use this option—estates worth over $75,000 would fair better with more structure.
Independent administration. In Texas, when someone writes up their will, they have the option to request independent administration. What this means is that the estate, as long as all the beneficiaries are in agreement, can be finalized and taken care of without too much involvement from probate court. In fact, because it does skip the involvement of the courts, most estates in Texas use this form of probate.
Dependent administration. As its name suggests, dependent administration means the court will be involved in the probate process every step of the way. One of the main reasons why dependent administration might be requested is if someone decides to contest the will. This would also be classified as full probate, as the court oversees everything.
Finally, another expedited path through probate is via a small estate affidavit—an option if your loved one did not leave a will and has an estate valued at less than $75,000. You must wait until 30 days after your loved one dies to file the affidavit, but when the court approves it, there are no more steps and the assets are transferred to the estate’s heirs.
How long will probate last?
More than 80 percent of Texas estates are managed by the independent administration process, which means that most of the estate administration is handled without needing court approval. For a simple estate, the entire probate process can be completed in as little as six months.
With dependent administration, the court will oversee and approve each step in the probate process. Dependent administration is rarely requested, but it may be necessary in instances where a will or an estate is being contested.
For a simple estate using independent administration, the entire probate process can be completed in as little as six months.
Dependent administration also requires a six-month window for creditors to make claims. Because of this added requirement—and because dependent administration usually includes family disputes to resolve—the process can stretch on for a year or more.
The fastest process of all is muniment of title, which you may be eligible for if your loved one had a will and there are no unpaid creditor claims on the estate and no property held in other states. This expedited form of probate can often be resolved in 30 days.
Texas probate timeline
Texas state and local courts govern the various time periods that the executor must follow. Once you’ve checked with the county clerk to verify the correct court to file in, there are several steps to take:
Step 1: Day 1 filing
If there is a will, the executor or the personal representative typically files an application to initiate probate in the county where the person lived.
Step 2: Waiting period/posting
There is a 10- to 14-day waiting period before the hearing is held for the application.
During this time, the county clerk will post a notice at the courthouse that a probate application was filed, in case someone contests the will or administrator. If no contests are received, the probate court proceeds.
Step 3: Holding a hearing
After the waiting period, a probate judge holds a hearing in which the court legally recognizes the death, verifies whether there is a valid will, and verifies the executor.
If there is not a valid will, the court will appoint an administrator for the estate. The executor or administrator then has 20 days to file an oath of office and secure a bond, if needed.
Step 4: Notifying creditors
Within 30 days, the executor files a notice to creditors, which can be published in the local newspaper. If any creditor makes a claim, the executor must either accept or reject the claim or any part of it within 30 days.
Step 5: Notifying beneficiaries
The executor notifies the beneficiaries within 60 days and within 90 days files an affidavit that all heirs have been notified.
If no will was filed, the probate court will determine who inherits what, following state guidelines for estates with no will, known as intestate law.
Interested parties may file a proceeding to determine heirship, including any secured creditors or qualified representatives.
If there are potentially unknown heirs, the court requires that notices be posted in newspapers and at the courthouse.
Step 6: Asset inventory
Within 90 days of appointment, the executor is required to catalog the estate’s assets.
If probate is under independent administration and the estate owes no unpaid debts (except for secured debts, taxes, and administration expenses), the executor may file an Affidavit In Lieu Of Inventory, swearing that there are no unpaid unsecured debts and that all estate beneficiaries received a copy of the inventory. (In dependent administration, the judge must approve the list.)
Step 7: Resolving disputes
The estate cannot be finalized if potential beneficiaries contest the will or file related grievances, and these complaints can be filed within two years of the original probate.
These disputes must be heard by a probate court judge, and generally a lawyer is required.
Step 8: Distributing assets
The executor generally has three years after their appointment to distribute the remaining assets (after debts and disputes are resolved).
The Texas probate process can be fairly simple in most cases. But, as with any estate administration, the executor needs to be willing and capable of the work ahead, both temperamentally (to follow administrative procedures and stay organized) and emotionally, since it can be hard to concentrate on legal matters when you’re grieving.
If you need guidance or help, you may want to reach out to a Texas estate attorney so you can have peace of mind about the paperwork, to make sure your responsibilities to your loved one and their beneficiaries are fulfilled in a timely manner.
You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.
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