Heirship & Estate Administration in Texas
Trusted Estate Planning & Probate Lawyers in Houston
Following a person’s death, their possessions – including anything from real estate and liquid money to stocks and personal property – become their “estate”. Estate administration, therefore, is the process for collecting a decedent’s estate, settling any outstanding debts, taxes or claims against the estate, and distributing the remainder of the estate to either:
- The decedent’s heirs (when a person dies intestate, or “without a will); or
- The decedent’s beneficiaries (when there is a will designating specific parties).
Regardless of whether a decedent had a will, the estate will still need to be managed. This can be a significant undertaking for those who are named executors (in situations where there is a will) or administrators (in cases where there is not a will) – especially if an estate is of high net worth, financially complex, or the subject of dispute.
At Hendershot Cowart, P.C. our Houston attorneys have extensive experience helping appointed executors and administrators navigate the Texas estate administration process, including matters of probate and heirship. Call (713) 909-7323 or contact us online to discuss how we can help.
When There Isn’t a Will: Texas Intestacy Law
When a person passes without a will, the estate becomes subject to intestacy law. Without a named executor, an administrator must be appointed. Estate administrators are typically agreed upon by the decedent’s heirs, and appointed by the court following a hearing. In Texas, there are certain people who cannot serve as administrators of an estate:
- Disabled or incapacitated individuals
- Convicted felons
- Someone who is not a Texas resident
- Corporations without appointed agents in Texas
- Any person deemed unsuitable by the court
Being appointed as an estate administrator or an executor (by will) comes with many fiduciary and legal responsibilities, meaning appointed parties represent interests aside from their own (i.e. the interests of beneficiaries / heirs and creditors and must uphold a duty of care. For these reasons, working with an experienced attorney is crucial to ensuring the proper administration of the estate – especially if heirship needs to be determined.
Determining Heirship in Texas
Without a will, determining heirs to an estate can be a challenge. Under Texas law, heirship will be determined by a probate court in accordance to what’s prescribed by law, rather than what the decedent would have wanted or preferred. Estates valued at less than $50,000, may qualify for a small estate affidavit. This process can be less expensive than heirship, which will need to be determined by the court for larger estates.
The heirship process generally involves the following:
- Application to Determine Heirship – The process begins with the filing of an Application to Determine Heirship, which can be initiated by any of the decedent’s heirs, or by any secured creditors or qualified representatives with an interest in the estate’s property. The applications must include information about the decedent, information of all heirs and their relationship to distributes, and details about the estate, including personal and real property. In some cases, written or oral testimony may be required to prove the accuracy of this information.
- Notice to Heirs – Texas requires notification to all the decedent’s heirs about the proceedings, including posting of notices in the court and newspapers if there may be unknown heirs.
- Unknown Heirs – Heirship proceedings require applications to be signed by all heirs, or that all heirs be served with the filing. Texas probate courts appoint an attorney ad litem to represent the interests of any unknown or potential heirs.
Texas heirship proceedings can be a more expensive and challenging process for distributing an estate as compared to probating a will, especially if there are multiple heirs and minors, and when estates consisted of complex business, real estate, and financial assets.
Administration of the Estate
After being appointed, estate administrators take possession of the deceased’s estate. Any money obtained from the estate, such as through existing revenue streams, must be placed in a separate bank account. Administrators must then for settle claims (debts and taxes) and distribute remaining assets in accordance to the probate court’s determination of heirship.
Any assets determined to be exempt under the Texas Estates Coode are set aside for distribution. Administrators may also have to manage family allowances for a period of one year after death if the decedent had a surviving spouse, minor children, or any disabled adult child. What happens next depends on the circumstances involved:
- Independent Administration – Texas allows for independent administration of an estate, a simplified process of estate administration free from court supervision. This process can avoid costly delays created by court intervention, which require approval for managing property, selling assets, paying debts, and distributing what remains.
- Dependent Administration – In cases where heirs dispute how an estate should be divided, or disagree on certain issues, dependent administration may be necessary. Unlike independent administration, this process required court approval for any of the significant steps taken by administrators of the estate. While dependent administration may be a slower and costlier route, it may be the only option when heirs cannot agree, or when estates are of high net worth.
Hendershot Cowart, P.C.: Comprehensive Estate Administration & Probate Services
Our legal team at Hendershot Cowart, P.C. is equipped with the breadth of experience in probate law and insight in related matters, such as business and family law, needed to address even the most challenging estates and cases. We know how to navigate the process and potential complications, the interests of administrators and their duties, and the estate’s value.
If you would like more information about your current situation and how our team can help you navigate the process, contact us to speak personally with a member of our Team. We serve clients throughout Houston and the state of Texas.