Fort Worth Probate Attorneys
Probate is the process a will must go through to divide up property. If you are a beneficiary of a will in Texas or you have concerns about the division of a will, you may need a probate lawyer. O’Neil Wysocki P.C. represents clients at all stages of probate. We can advise you about your rights, ensure the probate process protects those rights, and act on your behalf in court.
What is Probate?
Probate is the process during which a court legally recognizes a person’s will. If a person dies with a will, then the court oversees the division of the assets according to the will. If a person dies without a will, then it is up to the court to determine how the person’s property is divided.
In some cases, there are disputes over a will. For example, a person might have left multiple wills. Or a person might have signed a will under duress or when they were not competent to make decisions about their property. If this happens, varies people with a claim on the property may present their case to the court
Texas Independent Administration
An administrator or executor is the person charged with executing the will. They divide up the property according to the will’s mandates, then ensure it gets to the beneficiaries. In some states, the court closely oversees the actions of the executor. The executor must prove they have distributed the property, submit a detailed report to the court, or jump through other hoops. This is called supervised administration.
Texas law allows for independent administration of most wills. This means that after the court approves the executor and receives an inventory of assets, the executor can execute the will without further court involvement.
When there is an issue with the will, it’s important to address that issue before the court signs off on the executor. Otherwise there might be little or not paper trail. We advise and support clients who have concerns about the will’s administrator or the probate process itself.
What Property Must Go Through Probate?
Most property has to go through the probate process before it can be inherited. There are some notable exceptions to this rule. Property that does not have to go through probate includes:
- Community property with right of survivorship. For example, if one spouse dies the other will typically inherit the house without going through probate.
- Joint tenancy property with right of survivorship.
- Survivor’s benefits from annuities.
- Bank accounts that are payable-upon-death.
- Life insurance proceeds.
In most cases, assets held in trust will not go through the probate process, but there are notable exceptions to this rule. Because trust law is complicated, it is important to hire a lawyer early in the probate process if you have concerns about the administration of or inheritance of a trust.
What Happens if There is a Dispute Over a Will?
One of the primary purposes of the probate process is ensuring that assets are properly divided among the beneficiaries listed in the will. If there is a dispute over a will, it will arise during the probate process. Waiting too long to raise a dispute may even render it null and void. Some common will disputes include:
- A person dies with two wills, and it’s either unclear which one is more recent or uncertain whether they actually intended to use the second will.
- There is reason to believe a person was coerced into signing a will.
- There is reason to believe a person was incompetent to sign a will.
- There is a dispute about who is a beneficiary. For example, the will may divide property among the children and a previously unknown child appears after their death.
- The language of the will is unclear or vague.
- A person leaves division of certain property up to an administrator, and the beneficiaries disagree with the division.
- There is concern about the ability of the executor to fairly execute the will.
- There is disagreement about the list of property the executor submits to the court.
It’s not enough to assert that the will is unfair or that someone is lying. Texas estate law is complicated, governed by an array of statutes and court cases. So it’s important to hire an experienced lawyer to represent your family’s interests.
What if There is No Will?
A person who dies without a will has died intestate. This is a difficult thing for both the family and the court, because it requires the court to divide property and often leads to significant family conflict. This is why it is so important to have a will, even if you have little property and few assets.
If a person dies without a will and has a spouse and children, then the property is divided evenly among the spouse and children. The court then moves down the list of possible beneficiaries, based on closeness of relationship. For instance, a person who dies without a spouse but who has children leaves their property to their children. When a person has no spouse or children, the property goes to their parents, or if their parents are no longer living, to the siblings.
There are variations on this theme depending upon which specific relatives are still living, degrees of relatedness, and similar factors. The right legal representation can help with representing your interests to the court and ensuring the law is followed. So if someone you love dies without a will, especially if they leave behind a spouse or children who are dependent upon them, you must hire a lawyer.
O’Neil Wysocki P.C.: Compassionate Probate Representation
Emotions often run high following a death in the family. Sometimes people use the court to litigate their feelings about family relationships. And sometimes those emotions blind them to their own best interests or to important legal realities.
Experienced legal counsel is invaluable at such a difficult time. Even if the will seems fair, it’s wise to speak to a lawyer, especially if there are significant assets at stake. We can help you protect your interests, the interests of your children, and the desires of the loved one who wrote the will. Call us today for help.
Please contact our attorneys today at (972) 852-8000.