So many of the initial conversations I have with potential clients begin in almost the same fashion:
“Mr. Burt, I know nothing about probate. What does that even mean?”
Often as professionals, we take the language and processes that are an essential part of our jobs for granted. Words like “probate”, “inventory”, and “muniment of title” however sound like a foreign language to those unfamiliar with this area of the law. My hope is that we can unpack and pull back the curtain so that you can better understand the probate process and become more informed about how a loved one’s or family member’s assets are being transferred after their passing.
To start at the beginning, probate of an estate is an easy way of describing the legal process by which a deceased’s persons assets are transferred after their death. The manner in which those assets pass can either be by a Last Will and Testament or without. In either case, the deceased person’s estate will most likely require you to appear, in some form or fashion, in Harris County probate court to manage the estate’s assets. In order to do that, you should retain counsel to help you. In most cases, this will happen at a difficult and emotional time. However, in this initial meeting, your counsel will be trying to determine how to best assist you and will be relying on you for information.
Before attending the first meeting with a lawyer or before speaking with a lawyer on the phone, you should be prepared to answer the following questions:
- Did the Deceased have a will?
This is probably the most important question for the purposes of the meeting. Whether your family member or loved one had a Last Will and Testament or not has a material effect on the probate process. It is helpful to have the original, but not impossible if you do not. If you know the deceased had a will, also let the lawyer know if you don’t have the will, but that it might be in the possession of another person or in a safe deposit box. There are ways to have those documents produced or obtained.
- Do you have a Death Certificate?
Much of the information for the probate application can be taken from this document and will help the lawyer in the preparation of the probate applications.
- Do you know anything about the deceased’s family history?
Multiple marriages, disinherited children, blended families, and even the Decedent’s manner of passing can all have an effect on the probate process. Coming to the initial meeting prepared to share important information about potential situations can help your counsel prepare for things that may come up in the probate process. Not telling your counsel, for instance, that the decedent got married shortly before his death and may have drafted a new will, is not a surprise your lawyer wants to find out later. If any information that possibly affects the potential beneficiaries of the decedent’s estate is known to you – share it! There may be a way to handle some of those issues or prepare for them before it becomes too late.
If you come prepared to discuss these items, your counsel will be able to best advise you on how to begin the probate process.
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