What Is An Uncontested Probate in Bexar County? Simply put, probate is the legal process that an estate goes through after someone dies. During probate, the will is validated, and assets are formally passed to the deceased party’s heirs by the probate court. The probate court will also administer an estate when there is no valid will available.   What is the Purpose of Probate? While someone is alive, there are various avenues for transferring assets to another person. After death, however, that person is no longer available to transfer those assets. Before heirs can have access to any assets in an estate, they must be properly transferred. Probate is the process by which those assets are transferred from an estate to a decedent’s heirs after they are gone. In Bexar County, an uncontested probate takes care of the transfer of those assets. An uncontested probate is when an estate goes through the probate process without being challenged or contested by one or more of the deceased party’s heirs. Fortunately, a will contest doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it can tie up an estate for a long while in court and can be extremely costly to everyone involved.   The Process of Probating a Will in Texas During the probate process in Texas, the court will validate a will and officially appoint the executor, who will then begin administering the estate and distributing the assets to the decedent’s heirs according to the terms of the will. If there isn’t a will in place, as part of the process of intestate heirship and administration, the probate court will appoint an attorney ad litem to investigate the family history of the deceased, interview the applicant and witnesses, and locate any possible heirs, etc. It will then appoint an administrator of the estate to value the estate’s assets, pay any debts and taxes, and distribute what is left to the heirs who are known and located. Without a will naming beneficiaries, the court will follow intestate succession rules to determine who will get the assets in the estate. In very general terms, intestate succession typically follows a pattern that looks something like: spouse (+ children of prior marriage), children, and parents first and then other family members and relatives afterward. However, these rules are complicated and may look very different depending upon the facts and circumstances. If the court can identify no heirs, the assets in the estate may go to the state (or “escheat”).   Filing the Application for Probate After an individual’s death, an application for probate must be filed with the court. This is typically done by the executor named in the will (but it may be filed by others, depending upon the circumstances). After this is done, the court will post a notice that an application for probate has been filed. This notice gives anyone with an interest a two-week time window to make a claim in order to contest the will before it is admitted to probate. If there was no will, the applicant is also required to publish notice of the proposed heirship/administration in the newspaper specified in that county, and demonstrate to the court that publication has been completed.   Will Validation Once the waiting period is over, and if nobody has come forward to contest the will, it can then go forward as an uncontested probate in Bexar County. The court will schedule a hearing to officially recognize the person’s death (for this, a death certificate and other items may be required) and validate the will and the executor named in the will. If no will exists, the court will determine how probate will proceed, and an administrator will be appointed.   The Executor’s Job Begins One of the first things an executor must do is to notify any heirs and beneficiaries of the estate. If there is no will, the court will consider intestate succession when determining who will get the estate’s assets. If there were any debts left behind, the executor will also notify these creditors who can then file a claim against the estate.   Inventory of Assets The executor has ninety days to report assets to the court. The report must include an inventory of all properties, assets, appraisals of those assets, and any liabilities owed to or by the estate. Assets are placed into two categories. The first are probate assets. These are assets that are typically held in the decedent’s name only, without any rights of survivorship or designated beneficiaries. These will often include a home or real estate that is solely in the decedent’s name, any personal belongings, any personal bank accounts, or other assets that are not held in joint ownership. These assets must go through probate. Not all assets must go through probate to be transferred to heirs, however. Non-probate assets will not need to go through the probate process. These can include
  • Any asset jointly owned with another person. These assets will immediately go to the joint owner.
  • Assets that have designated beneficiaries, such as a life insurance policy
  • Assets that are payable on death accounts. Certain accounts can have named beneficiaries and, when the account holder dies, the assets in that account go to the named beneficiary.
  • Transfer on death deeds. These allow a property to go to the designated individual on the deed outside the probate process.
  • Assets held in a living trust. Certain assets held in a living trust can pass to beneficiaries outside probate.
Once an inventory is made of assets and debts, the executor will continue the administration of the estate. Each asset will require its own transfer process and it is the executor’s job to ensure that each is handled appropriately.   Resolution of a Contested Will While most wills are administered without dispute and are consequently considered an uncontested probate in Bexar County, in some cases, heirs may question the authenticity or the terms of the will. This can lead to a will contest. Some common situations may increase the likelihood of a will being contested. When family members or children feel they have been treated unfairly or have been disinherited in favor of other relatives or friends, or the deceased party was elderly or disabled, heirs may find cause to contest the will. In Texas, an interested party, including a spouse, heirs, devisees, creditors, or anyone who may have a claim, can contest a will. In order to contest a will, however, there must be grounds. These can include
  • Will revocation or proof that there was a subsequent will
  • Undue influence
  • Fraud
  • Lack of testamentary capacity of the maker of the will
  • Improper execution
  • Mistakes
  • Residency validity
Let me reiterate: contesting a will is not easy. It is actually quite difficult, and quite expensive. A will contest must have firm legal grounds and offer significant evidence to be successful. During a will contest, if no settlement can be reached between the parties, the court will handle the matter similar to a civil claim, and the judge will make the final decision. For more information, you may wish to watch our video “What Is Probate?”