When a person dies in Texas with assets in their name, those assets are often subject to probate, an important legal process where their will is validated, heirs are determined, assets are inventoried and appraised, debts are paid, and assets are ultimately distributed. All of this happens under a judge’s supervision, but most people prefer to avoid it because of its complex, drawn-out, costly, and emotional nature. Naturally, many families desperately want to know, “Can probate be avoided?”
This is a fair question. After all, the probate process can be a complex puzzle with a million pieces that must be expertly managed to ensure everything fits exactly where it is supposed to. And for some estates, getting to the finish line is easier said than done.
For some estates, the Texas probate process can take 6-12 months if everything is in order.
For others, it can take several years.
3 Ways To Avoid Probate
The probate process is often dictated by a valid will, but it also applies when a person dies without having signed a valid will. And that is where things can get really overwhelming. Each state has its own intestate law, and there are differences between the states regarding disposition of assets when there is no will.
Obviously, most people want to have a greater say regarding who will receive their property. This is where doing everything you can in advance to ensure you have a solid estate planning strategy is important. Not only will you protect everything you own and everyone you love, but you may be able to avoid probate entirely. There are three ways people can transfer property to their loved ones upon their death and not be subjected to probate.
Here are a few strategies to consider:
1. Establish a revocable or irrevocable trust
A trust allows you to make the wisest choices now that will serve you and your family later when you cannot make those important decisions. And they are becoming more common now that people are realizing they are not just for the super-wealthy. Unlike a will, which does not take effect until after you die, a trust starts immediately and covers death and incapacitation. Living trusts are established during the trustor’s life, but testamentary trusts take effect when the trustor dies. Living trusts can either be revocable or irrevocable.
Unlike a will, a trust does not have to go through probate. Also, there is no public record of its contents. No one but you and whomever you choose to disclose it to knows what it says.
2. Add a joint owner with a right of survivorship to your property
Adding a joint owner with a right of survivorship designation to your property and assets passes 100% of those assets to the joint owner upon your death. Therefore, probate is not necessary. This is often the way spouses choose to title their property. Joint tenancy can, however, be a problem. For instance, if a child is added to your property, and that child is later sued due to a divorce, car accident, etc., 100% of that property may be subject to the lawsuit. Joint tenancy “overrides” any last will and testament or trust you may have signed.
3. Add beneficiary designations to everything
Adding a beneficiary designation (pay-on-death [POD] or transfer-on-death [TOD]) to your personal property is another way to avoid probate. Again, 100% of your property passes to the person(s) you have designated as the beneficiary. Unlike a joint owner, however, the beneficiary has no access to your property until you have passed away, thus avoiding any problems with attachment of your assets by the beneficiary’s creditors. It does not provide access to the asset if you become incompetent. Like joint tenancy, however, the beneficiary designations “override” any last will and testament or trust you have executed.
When you are already grieving the death of a family member or close friend, the complex demands of the Texas probate process can be overwhelming. We have helped many families gain access to their inheritance as quickly as possible as well as give them tools and resources to help them avoid probate entirely. Let us make a complex process easier on you and your family.
Call Leigh Hilton PLLC Today!
Having a competent probate attorney in your corner will help you and your family navigate the often overwhelming waters that come with protecting everything you own and everyone you love. That is our job, and we would like to think we do it better than anyone else. Call Leigh Hilton PLLC so that we can help ensure you and your family are taken care of in the best way possible.
Leigh Hilton PLLC wants to be your first call every time for any estate planning need. We look forward to serving you.