The Probate Process: The Dreaded (and Often Misconceived) Reading of the Will from Estate Planning Attorney Katlyn Winters

Austin Probate Process

This blog has touched on some of our favorite estate planning and probate movies, including the 2019 who-dun-it, Knives Out. Revisiting this film in particular, and now we are looking at one of the most dramatic moments of the movie – the reading of the Will. In Knives Out, as well as many other movies, we see the heirs of a deceased person all gather with the deceased’s attorney. At this meeting the attorney announces, “they are now going to read the Last Will and Testament of the dearly departed.” Shortly thereafter, in the movies at least, we see the explosive, dramatic, and varying reactions of the beneficiaries and the not beneficiaries. This scene may make for a good movie, but the reading of the Will is not the reality for most in Texas.

The Probate Process: So What Does Happen with the Will?

While in many states, “probate” is practically a dirty word, in Texas, probate with a valid Will is not a process to fear or to dread. In many cases, it is a helpful step that allows loved ones to administer and manage the dearly departed’s estate. Typically, the probate process starts by finding an experienced probate attorney. The attorney will first review the Will. At that time, they will also ask for information about the decedent, the family dynamics, and the estate’s assets. After reviewing the facts of the case, the attorney will file an application to probate the Will. With the filing of the application the original Will is also filed with the court clerk. The clerk then posts a notice of the application to probate the Will, giving others who might have a more recent version of the Will an opportunity to bring it forward.

The Probate Process: The Hearing

After the required notice period has passed, a hearing will be scheduled.  The probate hearing will be conducted in front of a judge who is authorized to hear probate cases. During this hearing, the named executor will be asked simple questions establishing their relation and knowledge of the deceased. The judge will review the Will and make a finding on the validity of the Will. The judge will also determine at the hearing if the named executor is qualified to serve in the role of executor. Once the judge has found a Will to be valid and has determined an executor is qualified to serve, the court will issue Letters Testamentary. Letters Testamentary give the executor the ability to act upon the estate’s behalf.

The Probate Process: Administration of the Estate

After the hearing, the executor’s attorney will post a notice to creditors. This allows the executor to know of any claims against the estate. Additionally, there will be notice served to named beneficiaries in the Will. This notice ensures the beneficiaries are aware of the probate proceedings and their potential interests in the estate. Following due notices, the executor will file an inventory and appraisement with the court. The inventory and appraisement are an estimate of the estate’s overall value, and it must be filed within 90 days of the executor receiving letters testamentary and being appointed executor. The executor will work with their attorney to determine the type of inventory that is correct for the estate. Finally, the estate can now be distributed to pay debts, sell assets, and make distributions to the beneficiaries.

We are Here to Help

Probate may be a scary sounding word, but no need to fear when you have an experienced attorney by your side. For most it is not as dramatic as the thematic movie scene – the reading of the Will. If you have recently lost a loved one in Texas and would like an experienced attorney to assist you through the probate process, please call us. Nielsen Law PLLC provides family focused estate planning and probate services in the Austin, Round Rock, Cedar Park, and the Central Texas area. For more information and to learn about our firm, please contact us.