The loss of a loved one is typically followed by a grieving period that is full of heightened emotions ranging from denial to anger to depression. If you are currently grieving the loss of a loved one, the last thing on your mind is probably the practical and legal ramifications of your loved one’s death. Someone, however, must be in charge of overseeing the probate of the individual’s estate. If your loved one named you as the Executor of the estate in his/her Last Will and Testament, that someone is you. You may also find yourself volunteering to be the Personal Representative of the estate if the decedent did not leave behind a Will. If you are unfamiliar with the probate process, retaining the services of an experienced Texas estate planning attorney is definitely in your best interest, particularly since the State of Texas will not allow an Executor or Personal Representative to proceed pro se (without an attorney). To help you get started with your duties and responsibilities though, the estate planning attorneys at The Mendel Law Firm have put together some Sugarland, Texas probate resources that you may find helpful. If you have specific questions or concerns about a probate issue, please feel free to contact our office to schedule a consultation.
An Overview of Probate for the Beginner
If you are new to the probate process, it helps to learn a few basics before you get started with your duties and responsibilities as Executor or Personal Representative of the estate. Probate is the legal process that is typically required following the death of an individual. Probate is intended to serve several purposes, including providing a method by which estate assets are transferred to the new owners and ensuring that all debts of the decedent, including tax obligations, are paid before those assets are transferred out of the estate. The individual who oversees the probate of an estate is referred to as the Executor and is appointed by the decedent if a Last Will and Testament was executed prior to death. If the decedent died intestate, or without a Will, any competent adult may volunteer to be the “Personal Representative(PR) and oversee the probate of the estate. For the most part, the duties and responsibilities of an Executor and a PR are the same. For convenience sake, the generic term “Personal Representative (PR)” is frequently used to refer to either an Executor appointed in a Will or a PR who has volunteered for the position.
For more general information on the probate process, try perusing “The Probate Process” section of the American Bar Association’s website. Although it is from a different county, the Dallas County Probate Court also has a helpful “Probate Frequently Asked Questions” section you may find handy. Finally, you will find some helpful information and resources on the Fort Bend County Probate Court’s website.
If You Are Thinking about Proceeding Pro Se (Without an Attorney)
Probating an estate often involves complex legal and financial issues with which the average personal is unfamiliar. In addition, a PR is typically representing the best interests of numerous beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate. Consequently, the State of Texas requires an Executor or PR to be represented by an attorney during the probate of an estate. For more information, feel free to read through the pamphlet entitled “Fort Bend County Courts at Law Policy Regarding Pro Se Applicants.”
Finding the Right Attorney
Given that almost all PRs are required to be represented by an attorney, it is wise to start looking for the right attorney to assist you as soon as possible after being notified of your role in the probate of the estate. A good place to start is with the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys website. 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. You may also find assistance through the State Bar of Texas Lawyer Referral Service or the Fort Bend County Bar Association’s “Find an Attorney” section.
Resources for the Executor/Personal Representative
Probate takes place in the county wherein the decedent was a resident at the time of death. If the decedent was a resident of Sugarland, Texas at the time of his/her death, that means that you will need to initiate the probate of the estate in the Fort Bend County Probate Court. To get the process started, you will need the original copy of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament (if one exists), along with a certified copy of the decedent’s death certificate which can be obtained through the Texas Department of State Health Services. One of the many duties of a PR is to identify and locate all assets owned by the decedent that may become part of the estate. Toward that end, you may need to conduct a property search which can be accomplished on the Fort Bend Central Appraisal District’s website. You are also required to ensure that all creditors have been notified that probate is underway. While known creditors may be notified individually, unknown creditors are notified via publication in a local newspaper.
Paying Estate Taxes
Finally, because every estate is potentially subject to federal gift and estate taxes, you will need to be familiar with how to calculate the tax and how to prepare the tax return. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website offers a general overview of the federal estate tax. They also have a “Frequently Asked Questions about Estate Tax” section that may be helpful. If the estate does, indeed, owe federal gift and estate taxes, those taxes must be paid before any assets are transferred out of the estate. Although a handful of states also impose a state gift and estate tax, the State of Texas is not one of those states.
If you have questions or concerns about anything related to the probate of the estate in Sugarland, Texas, contact an experienced Texas estate planning attorney at The Mendel Law Firm, L.P. by calling (281) 759-3213 to schedule your appointment today.