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What does probate entail in Texas?

Some Houston residents may not fully understand the probate process, but at one point or another, most will have to deal with the specifics of probate when a loved one dies.

What is probate?

The definition of probate is the legal process that ensues after somebody dies that ensures that the estate is properly disposed of, with or without a will.

How is probate handled?

A probate court verifies the assets belonging to the estate and oversees property transfers to the designated heirs. In doing so, probate courts do the following:

-- Authenticate Last Will and Testaments and preside over any challenges made to them.

-- Distribute property according to the wishes of the deceased.

-- Oversee payment of all taxes and debts owed by the estate.

-- Appraise and account for all property.

Does the probate process take a long time?

It varies, usually depending on the value and complexity of the estate. Estates worth less than $20,000 are often able to be processed within a matter of weeks using an abbreviated procedure called summary administration or alternatively, small estate probate. Generally speaking, probate can last anywhere from several months to a year or more. Larger, complex estates or those that are challenged can take even longer.

Can or should probate be avoided?

There are definite reasons to avoid probate. Cost may be one of them, along with expediting the distribution of assets. But planning ahead is necessary when one intends to bypass the probate process.

It is at this point that it becomes most useful to utilize the services of an elder law or estate administration attorney. He or she can suggest strategies that will best fit the individual needs of the individual while still avoiding probate.

Some common strategies include establishing living trusts, opening payable-on-death bank accounts, joint tenancies and naming beneficiaries in IRAs and 401(k)'s. Another possible option is giving assets as gifts to reduce an estate's size. An individual can legally give away, tax-free, as much as $10,000 annually to any number of people, gifting any amount of money to one's spouse or charities with tax-exempt status or by paying tuition or medical expenses directly to the institution.

To learn which option is most suitable for your particular situation, consult with a Houston professional.

Source: networkofcare.org, "Probate: The Basics" Aug. 29, 2014

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