Estate Planning, Probate and Estate Administration


Estate Planning

Individuals that pass away without a will or trust will find their estate divided and distributed by the State of Texas, according to state laws regarding intestate succession.  Estate planning typically involves the creation of a will and/or a trust to allow a person's assets to pass to individuals or organizations as they wish, upon their death. 

A will allows an individual to address who to leave his or her assets to and how those assets should be distributed.  A will also allows an individual to appoint the person(s) or entity you want to oversee the administration of your estate as the Executor of the estate.  Moreover, a will provides an opportunity for individuals who have minor children (under the age of 18) to designate a guardian(s) for their children.

A living trust is another tool that estate planners use to protect a person's assets.  A living trust is created during a person's lifetime.  Assets held in a living trust do not require probate.  When the person who created the trust (the trustor or settlor) dies, the assets in the trust are distributed to the persons named, and in the manner specified by the trust.  The person or entity named in the trust as the successor trustee oversees the administration of the trust after the trustor or settlor dies.  Living trusts allow for a plan in the event of the incapacity of the trustor and may offer tax advantages for the beneficiary. 

Because of the complex nature of estate planning, be sure to consult an experienced estate planner to develop a plan that meets your needs and accomplishes your objectives.

Probate and Estate Administration

Probate is the process where a court oversees the administration of a deceased person's estate.  Probate typically occurs even if no valid will exists.  In the case of a death without a will, a decedent has died "intestate" and the decedent's estate will be distributed to the decedent's heirs in a manner dictated by theTexas Probate Code.  The general purpose of the probate process is to ensure that any final bills and expenses are paid, such as taxes that are owed, as well as to distribute any assets to the beneficiaries named in a will or any remaining assets to the proper heirs under Texas intestacy laws.

Not all assets are subject to probate administration in Texas.  Assets that are not covered by probate laws include property held in joint tenancy with right of survivorship, assets held in a living trust and property with beneficiary designations, such as IRAs and life insurance.

Texas also has established a summary probate administration for small estates.  This process may be used if individual passes away without a will and the value of the estate (excluding homestead and exempt property) equals $50,000 or less.  The process is subject to various restrictions.  View the Texas Probate Code Section 137 for more information on the summary probate administration for small estates.

Texas has a different simplified probate process for small estates where the executor of the estate may request that a probate court authorize a distribution of assets without going through a full probate administration.  In this case, the value of the property cannot exceed the amount needed to pay family allowances and particular creditors.  See the Texas Probate Code Section 143 for more information on this process.

Wigington & Dankesreiter, L.L.P.  provides comprehensive, tax-sensitive estate planning services tailored to your individual needs.  For further information regarding the estate planning or probate administration services offered by our firm, contact Wigington & Dankesreiter, L.L.P..