Probate Alternatives for Smaller Estates in Texas

The probate process can be costly and time-consuming for family members after a loved one dies. Depending upon many factors, the longer probate process can potentially:
  • reach into the thousands of dollars in attorney fees;
  • require a lot of paperwork;
  • tie up the estate’s assets in court for 6 months to a year or more;
  • cause or exacerbate family tensions among the heirs;
  • and much more…
When the deceased was a multimillionaire, spending a few thousand on probate isn’t such a big deal. And when the family all gets along, the risk of acrimony is reduced. But when the deceased had modest means, and/or the family doesn’t necessarily get along, that price tag might mean something very different, and the timeframe of 6 months might seem like an eternity. Thankfully, probate in Texas is known for being simpler and more efficient than most other states’ probate. But if your loved one had a very modest estate, this could nonetheless be cold comfort. But don’t despair! And don’t rush to the courthouse to start a probate. Just as Texas provides individuals the right the create a holographic will under certain circumstances, to avoid all that fancy lawyerin’ stuff… Texas has provided several probate alternatives for small estates and simple estates (as well as some alternatives that not-so-small estates can also take advantage of – trusts!) that can not only save on the legal bills that might otherwise be incurred through the probate process, but also potentially create some other collateral benefits along the way! A WORD OF WARNING: To be clear, avoiding probate should not always be your goal. There are situations where going through the full probate process definitely IS the best and most efficient method of settling the estate. Additionally, certain of the below methods are only available for estates/decedents that meet certain criteria (for example, an estate worth less than $75,000 excepting the homestead, estates with only one piece of real estate to pass, estates without any debts, etc.). This blog post will highlight some of the more common probate alternatives for Texas estates. Keep in mind that depending upon your circumstances, not everything listed here will be advisable or available. To read more about some of the alternatives that may be available, I encourage you to review the following pages: I have also had some of the “highlights” of the different probate alternatives put together in the below infographic. As always, this is summary and educational information, and is not a substitute for real legal advice.     As always, please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or would like to obtain professional legal assistance putting one of these strategies into place. While use of an alternative to probate is not always the right answer for everyone, in some circumstances, they can bring strong benefits. Also please keep in mind that, because these are probate alternatives provided under Texas law that may not be available under the laws of other states, if you start to involve things that go across state lines in your probate or simplified-probate, things can start to get a little bit more complicated. That might take the form of property in another state or country, moving to another state or country before your death, or any number of other things. The takeaway is this: these alternatives have been provided by Texas to make things easier on the heirs of small and simple estates – other states may or may not have matches or analogs for these simplified procedures.