After enduring the death of a loved one, the last thing most people want to do is head to court. The Texas probate process, used to pay off a deceased person’s debts and distribute inheritances, can make an emotionally devastating time all the more difficult. Even straightforward, simple probate cases can be time-consuming and expensive. For that reason, many people plan their estates to ensure their loved ones receive their inheritances as painlessly as possible. Texas offers its residents many ways to avoid probate, from establishing trusts to designating account beneficiaries.
Why You Might Want to Avoid Probate
There are many reasons why someone might want to avoid having a decedent’s estate go through probate, including:
- They do not want family members having to resolve their affairs in court when they are busy grieving.
- They do not want loved ones to bear the expense associated with hiring an estate executor.
- They are afraid that a disinherited heir or estranged relative might contest their will or bring a lawsuit against their estate.
- They know that probate proceedings are all a matter of public record, and they do not want the details of their estate to be accessible to everyone.
The Different Ways to Avoid Probate in Texas
Here are some of the most common ways for Texas residents to ensure their assets don’t go through probate:
Living trusts. Creating a trust is a common method used to avoid probate in Texas. When someone forms a trust, they are essentially creating a sort of container into which they can deposit almost any asset. After writing and approving a trust document—and naming a successor trustee who will manage the trust after their death—they can begin transferring assets into the trust and naming heirs. Once the transfer is complete, the assets will be managed under the terms of the trust. After the original trustor has died, the assets will pass on to their beneficiaries outside of probate.
Joint ownership. In Texas, there are two different forms of joint ownership. The first is joint tenancy, which may be employed either by people who are single or married. When two or more people are joint tenants, and one tenant dies, the deceased person’s ownership stake will automatically pass to the survivors.
While joint tenancy agreements are most often used to protect homes from probate, they can extend to other sorts of shared assets, too, such as bank accounts. However, each joint owner must have a co-equitable interest in the stake, and they must sign an agreement explicitly stating they are entering into a joint tenancy agreement.
The second form of joint ownership in Texas is survivorship community property, which can be used by married couples. Property owned as community property will carry over to the surviving spouse upon the other’s death.
Payable-on-death accounts. In Texas, people can add a “payable-on-death” designation to bank accounts and other types of accounts. When the account owner dies, the money or other contents will pass on to a designated beneficiary.
Transfer-on-Death deeds. A transfer-on-death deed allows an individual to list a beneficiary for their home or other real property. This deed must be recorded while the property owner is still alive; however, the deed does not take effect until the owner has died. While the property owner is living, the intended beneficiary has no rights to the property.
Small estate procedures. Administrators of small estates can request to close the estate through a small estate affidavit. This method is typically only available to heirs if the estate meets very specific criteria such as an estate that is not worth more than its outstanding debt or the decedent left less than $75,000 in property.
Contact Smith Klein Law Today
An estate is very often the culmination of a lifetime of hard work and a legacy a person wants to pass on to loved ones. Consequently, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for estate planning, and neither is there one for avoiding probate. Most people require blended estate plans to ensure that their family is protected from probate.
Whenever you have questions about your Texas estate planning options, we are here to help. To find out more about your options, contact us online, or visit us at any of our offices in Collin, Dallas, or Denton county.
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