The Probate Workbook - Financial & Estate Planning / Wills

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Before being appointed to serve as a personal representative or executor, the first step in probating an estate is to locate all of the decedent's estate planning documents and other important papers.

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The original documents should be stored in a safe place until they can be given to the estate attorney. The decedent's important papers will include information about the decedent's assets, including. This inventory will also include information about the decedent's debts, such as utility bills, credit card bills, mortgages, personal loans, medical bills, and the funeral bill.

That way you have a detailed list of the specific documents that will need to be located.

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From these documents, a list should be made of what the decedent owned and owed. Also list how each asset is titled—in the decedent's individual name, as a tenant in common, in joint names, or in trust. For assets and debts that have a statement, note the value of the asset or debt as listed on the statement and the date of the statement.

In addition, the decedent's prior three years of income tax returns should be set aside. Once the decedent's important documents have been sorted through, the next is to meet with an estate lawyer to open the estate with the probate court. Once the decedent's legal documents and other important papers have been sorted through, the next step in probating the estate is to meet with an estate attorney to officially open the probate estate with the probate court. Once the estate lawyer has received enough information to draft the court documents required to open the probate estate, they will notify the person named to serve as the personal representative or executor in the decedent's Last Will and the beneficiaries named in the Will.

If there isn't a Last Will, then the decedent's heirs at law will be required to review and sign the documents required to open the probate estate.

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While these documents will vary from state to state, or even from county to county within the same state, they will generally include the following:. Once the probate estate has been opened with the probate court, the next step in probating the estate is to establish the date of death values for all of the decedent's assets. This step is important because most states require that an inventory of the decedent's probate assets along with their date of death values be filed with the probate court within days of the date when the probate estate was opened with the court. All financial institutions where the decedent's assets are located must be contacted to obtain the date of death values.

If the decedent's estate is taxable—on the federal or state level—then the date of death values will also need to be established for the decedent's non-probate assets. These assets will include those owned as. Once the date of death values have been determined for the decedent's assets, the next step in probating the estate is to pay the decedent's final bills and ongoing expenses of administering the estate. This is also the time when the executor will need to evaluate whether any of the decedent's assets, such as real estate or a business, should be sold in order to raise cash to pay expenses, debts, and taxes.

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It is the executor's job to figure out what bills the decedent owed at the time of death. They are responsible to determine if the bills are legitimate, and then pay the bills. The probate process also applies when someone dies without a will. Initiating the probate process is easy.

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The person named in the will as executor usually files this Application. If there is no will then any interested party, including a creditor or a surviving spouse, can file the Application. After the Application has been filed there is a two week waiting period during which the county clerk posts notice at the courthouse that an Application for probate is pending.

This posting provides notice to anyone who might want to contest the will or administration. If the person died without a will , the court must determine who are the heirs entitled to receive the property, and formally appoint an estate administrator. Dying without a will risks that the land may pass to undesired heirs instead of those the decedent intended because the land will pass under the strict scheme contained in the Texas intestacy laws.

Dying without a will is the most expensive, time-consuming and difficult process for heirs attempting to secure their title to land. The Texas Probate Code requires that executors and administrators in any probate proceeding complete two requirements:. File an inventory of the estate assets.

The executor or administrator must work through any claims presented to the probate estate for payment, and determine which claims are valid and necessary to pay, and which claims can be denied. The assets remaining in the estate after payment of claims, debts and expenses are distributed to either a the beneficiaries listed in the will or b the heirs determined by the court, if there was no will.

If the family members of the decedent engage in a fight over the assets of the estate, the court will hear that dispute and resolve whatever issues may exist. Probate can sometimes be avoided or simplified by having a professional estate plan which I will discuss in my next blog , but the process itself is often not difficult or expensive, and usually offers the best solution to protecting the rights of the family to lands they are entitled to receive.™

Some clients appreciate the opportunity to gather together and organize all their personal and financial information at the start of the planning process. Other clients simply want to get their questions answered and need time to think.

Estate & Will Planning Part 1

Some clients know exactly what they want to do and just need a little help to implement their plan. In most cases, you can save time and money in the preparation of your estate plan by gathering information on your own before approaching an attorney. To assist you in this process, download our Estate Planning Worksheet. Click here for a handout version of this page.

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Joyce Lucas had an estate plan but it was incomplete and fragmented. To get her estate in order, Joyce engaged our Texas Estate Planning Lawyer, Thomas Hall who provided legal expertise, listening skills, gentle guidance, and answered prayers for this ranchland owner. How a Colorado couple saved their majestic ranch from a forced sale to pay the federal estate tax and created a legacy for their family.