Most Texas estates pass through probate. During probate, the validity of the decedent’s will is established, someone is designated to handle the administration of the decedent’s estate, beneficiaries or heirs are identified, debts are paid, and the assets are disbursed to the named beneficiaries or heirs.
The probate process in and of itself is generally complex and lengthy. However, when a dispute arises during probate, it can make the process even more complicated. If you are facing probate litigation in Houston, whether as the beneficiary or administrator of a challenged will, obtaining constructive legal advice about your case could be the next step.
An accomplished trust and estates attorney at Romano & Sumner could protect your rights at all stages of probate and help you avoid the common mistakes that may otherwise occur if you try to handle the litigation process alone.
Several factors will impact how long the probate process takes in the administration of an estate. In the state of Texas, probate can take less than a year from start to finish. However, if any provisions of the will or other estate documents are in question, or one or more parties contest the decedent’s will, the timeline can be prolonged significantly.
If the decedent left behind significant property and assets, this could also cause the probate litigation process to drag on. In some cases, it may be a few years from when probate starts to the point where all disputes are resolved and the assets can be distributed.
Usually, probate litigation occurs for one of several reasons. Will contests are one of the primary reasons for litigation to occur during the probate process. There are a variety of grounds that may support a will contest.
If the decedent did not have the mental capacity to comprehend the document they were executing, or evidence shows that they were under duress when they made the will, a contest may succeed in court. Or, a will may be challenged because it does not meet the legal formalities for validity as required in the state of Texas.
A contested will is not the only reason for litigation during the Houston probate process. For example, if the decedent named a guardian to care for the property and personal affairs of any surviving minor children, and one or more persons take issue with the decedent’s named caretaker, this could also give rise to litigation proceedings.
Allegations of a breach of fiduciary obligation can result in litigation during probate as well. As an example, an estate administrator has specific legal duties with which they must comply and use proper care to follow the wishes of the decedent in the management and distribution of assets. If the administrator fails in their legal duty, whether by acting in their own interests or violating the terms of the will, interested parties can take legal action.
The probate process commences when a person files a will or heirship proceedings with the court. After this initial filing, there will be a gap in time before a hearing will take place in a court. This gap allows one or more individuals to challenge any aspect of the estate if they wish to do so. Once the probate process commences, Texas law only provides interested parties 24 months to take legal action.
While will contests are a common cause of litigation, legal action may also commence if the decedent died without having executed a will (known as dying intestate), and one or more parties wish to prove their rightful claim as an heir to the decedent’s assets.
At the hearing, the court will determine whether the decedent’s named administrator is fit to serve as such, or the judge will appoint one if no one was named to administer the estate.
The legal validity of the will must also be determined. If the validity of the will is upheld, the executor will be required to take account of all property and assets left behind by the decedent, and handle the administration of any debts. Any heirs of the decedent will also need to be accounted for. During this point of probate, it is also not uncommon for one or more parties to initiate litigation as interested parties to the decedent’s estate.
Whether a person wishes to contest a will or requires help responding to a contest as the executor of an estate, a local legal representative can be highly beneficial in all such proceedings. The outcome of the decedent’s estate may hang in the balance until all outstanding claims have been dealt with.
Probate litigation in Houston is an intricate process that should not be approached without competent legal assistance. If you wish to file a legal action to contest a will or other aspect of an estate, or if you need help responding to a will challenge, the next best step is to speak with an attorney. Call and schedule your free, confidential legal consultation with Romano & Sumner today.
Romano & Sumner, PLLC