If there is a will, the first thing you do is get the original will, then your attorney will file that original will with the court. Then, you can go to court at least three weeks after the will has been filed, and “prove up the will.” You have got your executrix and he or she can prove up the will that “Yes, he lived in Texas, he was a resident of Harris County, he was 60 something years old, he died on January 1st. Four years have not elapsed since his death. He had a wife who receives everything and if she has pre-deceased him, it would go to his children and/or his grandchildren”. Those are the kind of questions you answer in front of the judge. Once the executor or administrator is sworn in, he or she can do her job and divide off the property and pay any bills. Before the bill paying an inventory is prepared by the executor that lists all the assets. The executor can pay all the bills or award the property pursuant to the will. After that, in Texas, it is over. You never have to go back to court.
Anywhere from months to two years depending on the complexity of the case.
If there is not a will, of course, that at least doubles the time and expenses. Also, if an heir cannot be found or is uncooperative, the case will be delayed. I have a case now that started as a divorce case. There was a mediation and the couple agreed to a property division. Then the husband died without a will before the divorce was granted. The husband had been married three times. He had a daughter that was not born to any of those wives. He had also taken care of the children of those wives who he had married and did not adopt any of those children. One of his wives had listed him as the father of her child on an amended birth certificate. It sounds clear now, but the children and wives had to be tracked down and double checked for accuracy. The case is not finished yet because the third wife abandoned the marriage, has been uncooperative and has had to be served by a constable. Not only has this case been delayed, it has been expensive for the estate.
I charge normally about $2,500 for a standard probate, and then if there is an intestate case, in other words, there is no will, it is usually between $5000 and $6,000 to do that. It might be more if complications arise. I start at $2,500.
It’s not that it is not legal, most judges require a lawyer to represent the estate because they are not personally interested in the estate and work for the benefit of the estate, not for personal gain. It’s important that things have to be done properly because titles of properties and determination of what goes to the heirs must be done according to the will and the law.
The administrator/ executor will award the property to specific heirs at specific times. So, if there is a surviving spouse, he or she gets everything. Now, if the spouse is pre-deceased, that will maker, then he or she has to divide up the bank accounts, the stock accounts, any assets and write them a check because the estate will have its own checking account. Or if there is a trust, then the executor will have to setup the trust so that all the money can go there and the kids can get it as they need it or whatever the terms of the trusts are. That is why it needs a lawyer to do all that.
It can lead to trouble, when heirs get worried that he or she won’t get what he or she should. “Where is my money? I want my money! I want the house! I want the furniture!” or “Mom said I’d get the Beach house!” As you probably are aware, money can bring out greed.
I listen and I am non-judgmental. Those are the two things that most people say about me. I listen to them and hear them and do everything I can so that the family and heirs will be happy and receive pursuant to the will. It can be a very stressful and difficult time. That is why I listen and that is why I am non-judgmental. There is almost always a “ghost in the closet” or something in the family that they may not want to tell you. Most secrets come out when a thorough job is done preparing for probate.
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