If you find yourself directly involved in the probate of an estate in the Houston, Texas area, you may find the court system in general, and the probate process specifically, a bit intimidating and difficult to navigate. If so, you are certainly not alone. Most people have very little experience with the probate court system because probate court is a highly specialized court that only has jurisdiction over the estate of a decedent or guardianship proceedings.
Moreover, you may find it difficult to concentrate on the legalities involved in probating an estate given the fact that you are also grieving the loss of your loved one. Because we understand how frustrating it can be trying to navigate the judicial system during a period of heightened emotions, we have put together some resources that may help you find the services, advice, and support you need.
Law Enforcement Resources
It is occasionally necessary during the probate of an estate to contact a local law enforcement agency to obtain a copy of a police report, or for a variety of other reasons. In the Houston, Texas, area, you will find that the Houston Police Department has jurisdiction within the city limits while the Harris County Sheriff’s Department retains jurisdiction outside of the city limits.
If you are involved in the probate of an estate in the Houston, Texas area you will be filing documents and appearing for hearings in one of four Harris County Probate Courts. As a general rule, probate is initiated in the county in which the decedent was a resident at the time of death. Information regarding all four Probate Courts can be found on the Harris County Probate Court website. On the website, you will find the name of the presiding judge, the location of the court, and a direct telephone number for each of the four Probate Courts.
If you need to search court records for any reason, you can conduct an online search through the Harris County Clerk of Court’s website. Records such as real property records, marriage licenses, birth and death records, and assumed name certificates (DBAs), can all be searched through the Clerk’s website. If you need certified or non-certified copies of probate records, you can obtain them at one of the branch locations.
Additional Probate Resources
For the new Executor or Personal Representative, probating an estate can be a complicated, and time consuming endeavor. This is particularly true if you are also grieving the loss of the decedent yourself at the same time that you are attempting to handle the legal aspect of the decedent’s death. Most people in your position choose to retain the services of an experienced estate planning attorney to assist them throughout the probate process. Whether you decide to retain an attorney, or go it alone, there are some additional probate resources that you may find helpful.
The Texas Young Lawyers Association has published a pamphlet entitled “Texas Probate Passport” that provides an excellent overview of the probate process in general along with an explanation of some of the basic legal terms involved in probating an estate. The American Bar Association’s “Frequently Asked Questions” section also has information about the probate process that you might find helpful.
If you do decide to consult with an attorney, you might start with the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys (AAEPA). The AAEPA is a national organization of attorneys who have chosen to focus their practice on legal issues related to wills, trusts, and estates. Membership in the AAEPA signifies that an attorney has proven experience in the areas of estate planning and/or elder law. The AAEPA can help you find the right attorney to help you through the probate process. The State Bar of Texas also has a lawyer referral service that may be able to help you locate an attorney to help you.
Practical Probate Resources
As the Executor or Personal Representative you will have a wide range of duties and responsibilities throughout the probate of the estate. One of those duties will be to ensure that any federal gift and estate tax owed by the estate is paid in a timely manner. Gift and estate taxes are a complicated area of the tax law and the repercussions of making a mistake can be severe. If you are unfamiliar with federal gift and estate taxes, the IRS “Frequently Asked Questions on Estate Taxes” page may be a good place to start. The “Estate Tax” section of the IRS website may also provide you with useful information.
As the Executor/PR of the estate, you will also likely need certified copies of the decedent’s death certificate which can be obtained through the Texas Department of State Health Services. You will also be required to publish notice of the probate in a local newspaper to ensure that creditors of the estate are given an opportunity to file claims against the estate. The Daily Court Review can help with the publication requirement.
Sometimes, determining what real property a decedent owned at the time of death can be challenging. One way to be certain what the decedent owned is to conduct a search of the Harris County property records. If you find yourself in need of a certified appraiser to obtain date of death values, contact Alexander Appraisals and Estate Sales or Roger Howard Estate Sales and Appraisals .
Contact Us for Probate Assistance
If you have specific questions or concerns regarding the probate of an estate, or you would like to discuss retaining an experienced estate planning attorney to assist you in the administration of an estate, contact the experienced Texas estate planning attorneys at The Mendel Law Firm, L.P. by calling (281) 759-3213 to schedule your appointment today.