The days, weeks, and even months following the loss of a family member or loved one are typically stressful and filled with heightened emotions. If you find yourself grieving the loss of someone close to you, the legalities of your loved one’s death are probably the last thing on your mind. If you were named as the Executor in the decedent’s Last Will and Testament, or you are “elected” to be the Personal Representative if the decedent failed to execute a Will prior to death, you will need to focus on the legal aspects of your loved one’s death because you will be overseeing the probate of the estate. Most Executors/Personal Representatives (PR) retain the services of an experienced estate planning attorney to help them navigate the probate process; however, to help you get started with your duties and responsibilities, the estate planning attorneys at The Mendel Law Firm have put together some Woodlands, 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.
What Is Probate?
If you are new to the concept of probate, it helps to learn a few basics before you get started with your duties and responsibilities as Executor 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. If you are the Executor of the estate, that means that the decedent appointed you to that position in his/her Last Will and Testament. It also means that the decedent had a considerable amount of faith in you and your abilities and is trusting you to efficiently and effectively handle the probate of his/her estate. 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 and the “Estate” section of the Montgomery County Courts website also includes helpful information and links.
Resources for the Pro Se Executor
Probating an estate often involves complex legal and financial issues with which the average personal is unfamiliar. Consequently, most PRs retain the services of an experienced estate planning attorney to help them through the probate process. If you decide to proceed pro se, or without an attorney, however, you will need to learn court procedures and rules as well as educate yourself in more depth about the probate process to ensure that you do not make costly mistakes. The Montgomery County local rules, which you will be expected to understand, can be found on the county’s website. The probate of an estate usually occurs in the county in which the decedent was a resident at the time of his/her death. If the decedent was a resident of The Woodlands, Texas, therefore, the probate will be filed in Montgomery County. Most of the forms you will need can be located on the court’s website; however, keep in mind that the court staff are not permitted to assist you in filling out the forms. The Probate Court has also published a helpful “Documents That May Be Needed” to help you get started with the probate process.
To initiate the probate of the estate 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. As the PR, you will also need to ensure that all creditors have been notified that probate is underway. Unknown creditors are notified via publication in a local newspaper. The Montgomery County News can help you with the notification.
Finally, every estate is potentially subject to federal gift and estate taxes. As the Executor/PR of the estate you must prepare an estate tax return and determine if the estate owes any federal taxes. 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. The State of Texas does not impose a state level estate tax.
If you have questions or concerns about anything related to the probate of the estate, contact an experienced Texas probate attorney at The Mendel Law Firm, L.P. by calling (281) 759-3213 to schedule your appointment today.