Estate administration rules are uniform and understandable

When a loved one dies, there are some basic principles of estate administration in Texas that will help the surviving family to know what to do. First, the survivors must locate all estate planning papers, such as a will and trust documents. The records of all assets must be accumulated and examined. If all assets were owned jointly with a spouse, or with someone else with the right of survivorship, then there are no assets remaining and no need or reason to file an estate or engage in estate administration.

Thus, all property owned as husband and wife, or that is otherwise subject to the right of survivorship, passes automatically and instantaneously at death to the surviving spouse or other joint tenant(s). However, in the case where all assets are not jointly titled, and if there are significant assets in the decedent's name alone at death, then an estate will have to be opened and administered. With respect to retirement accounts, life insurance and investment accounts, if there is a specific beneficiary listed in the account papers, then the assets go directly to the beneficiary without passing through the decedent's estate.

Where no beneficiary is listed or where the beneficiary has died and no replacement listed, the asset will pass through the decedent's estate as part of the estate assets. The executor named in the will, or an administrator if there is no will, is responsible for filing and probating the estate. That person must obtain a certified copy of the death certificate and go to the county courthouse with the will and other pertinent documents.

If there are significant enough assets, a formal estate will be opened and the executor or other personal representative will be sworn in by the court clerk. From that point, the executor or administrator will have the duty of estate administration, i.e., collecting the assets, paying the bills and distributing the net assets to the heirs as per the will or per the state statutory preferences. These procedural rules and principles are applicable in Texas and all other states. 

Source:, "Tips you need to know to take a loved one's estate through probate", Nov. 18, 2016

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