The Texas probate courts oversee all estate settlements for individuals who died with a will and instructions in place for their final wishes after they pass as well as for individuals who die intestate or without a will. Estates comprise all the property, assets, and debts the deceased owned or controlled, and dispersing them requires an administrator.
In a will, the deceased can select an executor for their estate. This party represents the estate and ensures the terms of the will are adhered to when disbursing the assets to beneficiaries. While a Texas probate court appoints an estate administrator for people who die without a will, if all heirs agree, they can request the court appoint a particular person to serve as the administrator.
There are two ways to settle an estate in Texas, independent estate administration and dependent estate administration. The probate process will determine which one will be used to settle an estate, so it’s important to understand their differences. It is often helpful to consult with an experienced will and probate attorney familiar with Texas estate and probate laws.
Dependent Estate Administration in Texas
Dependent administration is typically used when the estate or will is in dispute or if the probate process requires court intervention to settle. If the estate has accrued large debts, for example, then the courts may manage how creditors are evaluated and paid. Beneficiaries of the estate are notified when the administrator completes specific probate duties.
With Dependent Administration, the county probate court approves each action as it’s undertaken, including each transaction, like selling assets or settling debts. However, because the court is involved in processing the estate, processing it can take longer and cost more. Expect multiple court hearings and legal documents that need to be filed.
Independent Estate Administration in Texas
Probate courts will grant an independent administration of an estate if the deceased left a will naming an independent executor. If the will does not specifically exclude independent administration, all beneficiaries can agree to the independent administration of the estate.
The independent executor (sometimes referred to as a personal representative) manages the settling of debts, collecting assets, and selling assets of the estate. Any interested estate parties may legally object to independent administration, and if the court grants their objection, then the probate process changes to a dependent administration. Or, the court may award full or limited authority over the estate administration to the representative. Limited authority often means the court oversees real estate transactions, whereas full authority distribution will not require court intervention unless there is an objection.
With independent estate administration, even though the estate’s settlement doesn’t directly involve the court at every step, the estate administrator, with their attorney’s assistance, still has several items they must complete for the court. They have to do the following steps:
- Publish a notice to general creditors;
- Provide a notice to beneficiaries that the will was admitted to probate and that they, the named executor, were appointed by the court as independent executor. This notice must include a copy of the will;
- Provide a notice to any secured creditors of the estate;
- Prepare an inventory that lists the assets of the estate;
- File the inventory or an affidavit in lieu of inventory with the probate court; and
- Give the inventory to the beneficiaries named in the will.
The distribution of the estate to the beneficiaries is handled by the independent executor without the court’s approval.
The chief difference between an independent and dependent estate administration is the level at which a court is involved. Individual estate administration is a heavy responsibility, and appointed representatives unfamiliar with Texas probate laws may wish to consult with an experienced probate lawyer to avoid making mistakes that can cost the estate and its heirs.
Do You Need Estate Planning or Administration Services in Dallas-Fort Worth?
Administering the disbursal of an estate can be a complicated and time-consuming process. Both dependent and independent estate administrators have a serious obligation to the interests of the estate and its beneficiaries, which can be a complicated process. Don’t try to navigate this complicated process alone. Consult with an experienced Dallas estate planning and administration lawyer today.