The First Steps in the Probate Process

EP - Oct 17When you find it’s time to begin administering the decedent’s estate, one of the first things you will need to do is engage an attorney who will represent you in your capacity as the independent executor of the decedent’s estate. Most likely, the attorney you engage will set up a meeting with you in order to discuss the estate administration process and to outline their representation of you.

The attorney will probably request that you bring a number of documents with you in order to facilitate the estate administration process. While different attorneys may ask for different items, here is a list we provide to clients to help them get prepared and organized at the beginning of the process:

  • Copies of deeds, surveys, and year-of-death notices of appraised value and title policies to any real property;
  • Copies of the 2 previous years income tax returns;
  • Copies of current statements for all bank accounts, CDs, retirement accounts (IRAs, 401(k)s, etc.), and brokerage accounts, including those in joint names along with copies of account agreements for all joint accounts;
  • Copies of life insurance policies and annuity contracts, if any;
  • Copies of all United States Gift Tax Returns (IRS Form 709), if any;
  • Copies of mineral leases and oil and gas division orders, if any;
  • Copies of notes receivable owed to the decedent, if any, and their date of death balances;
  • List of debts and liabilities as of date of death;
  • Copies of all stock or bond certificates, including savings bonds;
  • Copies of funeral bill and any other bills owed by the decedent, including utility, medical and credit card bills, as of date of death;
  • Copies or a list of all checks payable to the decedent as of date of death including the payor, amount and purpose of payment;
  • A list of contents of any safe deposit boxes;
  • Copies of jewelry and art appraisals with a general description and estimated lump sum value of household and personal effects; and
  • Copies of car titles.

As you can tell, the list is quite exhaustive, but very often a decedent will have only owned a few items on this list. The above list gives you a good idea, however, of the assets you will need to begin thinking about, gathering, and organizing.

You will also need to be sure that you bring the decedent’s original will with you to the meeting as well as an original death certificate. The attorney will be required to file both of these items with the court as a part of the initial application for probate. Additionally, the Texas Estates Code now requires that the last 3 digits of the decedent’s and the applicant’s social security numbers and driver’s license numbers be included in the application for probate. You will want to be sure you have this information available when you meet with your attorney.

Finally, during this time you should be sure that you are keeping track of any and all expenses the estate is accruing as well as expenses you are accruing in your representation of the estate. This may include things like funeral bills and hospital bills as well as travel and lodging expenses for the executor.

Check back soon for our next post in which we will discuss the process for having the decedent’s will admitted to probate, including the probate hearing itself, and the court-related deadlines that will need to be met after the hearing to have the will admitted to probate.

John Conner is the author of this post. He can be contacted at jconner@gdhm.com or 512.480.5612.

 

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