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How to Avoid Probate in Texas

Law Office of Sharion L. Fisher Jan. 5, 2024

Probate sign, stack of papers and gavelProbate can be a complicated and stressful process. I've seen it time and again, causing unnecessary delays and financial burdens for loved ones left behind. But you know what? It doesn't have to be this way. There are strategies we can put in place to avoid probate in Texas that can set the foundation for a smooth transfer of your assets after your passing.  

Community Property Survivorship Agreements: The Power of Agreement 

One of the most effective ways to avoid probate in Texas is through a community property survivorship agreement. This is a legal procedure that allows spouses to agree, in writing, that all or part of their community property will pass directly to the surviving spouse when the first one dies. No probate needed.  

According to Section 112.052 of the Texas Estates Code, certain requirements need to be met to create this agreement.  

Specifically, the law stipulates that the agreement must be in writing and signed by both spouses. It must also clearly identify the property that will be affected by the agreement. It also needs to clearly state that the property is community property and that the intention is for it to pass to the surviving spouse upon the death of the first spouse. Additionally, the agreement must be recorded in the deed records of the county where any real property is located. 

It's highly recommended that a lawyer be involved in drafting this agreement to ensure all legal requirements are met and the desired outcomes are achieved.  

Life Estates in Real Property: Your Home, Your Legacy 

Another effective method to avoid the probate process is to establish a life estate in real property. In this arrangement, as the owner, you would transfer the property title to another individual while retaining a life estate for yourself.  

This approach allows for smoother management and distribution of assets while preserving the intended meaning and purpose. In simpler terms, you'd get to live in and use the property until your death. Upon your passing, the property would then pass directly to the designated beneficiary, avoiding probate altogether. 

But remember, a life estate can only be created for real property, not personal property. It's a bit of a tricky concept, but with the right guidance, it can be a powerful tool in your estate planning arsenal. 

Living Trusts: A Powerful Planning Tool 

Living trusts are another great avenue to take to avoid probate. A living trust, also known as a revocable trust, gets created while you're alive. You can transfer your assets into this trust and remain in control of them during your lifetime. After your death or incapacity, a successor trustee takes over and distributes the assets according to your wishes, ultimately bypassing probate. 

Creating a living trust can be complex, but don't let that deter you. A skilled estate planning attorney can guide you through the process: 

  1. First and foremost, you need to decide what type of trust you want to create. This could be a single or joint trust, depending on your marital status and your goals. 

  1. Next, you'll need to take inventory of your assets. This should include your real estate, bank and investment accounts, as well as any valuable personal property (such as artwork or jewelry).  

  1. Once your assets are in order, it's time to draft the trust document. This document establishes the trust and outlines its terms. You'll need to name yourself as the trustee, so you can maintain control of your assets during your lifetime. You also need to designate a successor trustee, who will manage and distribute your assets upon your death or incapacity. An estate lawyer can help you with this step, ensuring the trust document is legally valid and reflects your wishes. 

  1. After the trust document is finalized, the next step is to fund the trust by transferring your assets into it. This may involve changing titles or beneficiary designations to ensure the assets are owned by the trust. It's essential to follow through with this step, as unfunded trusts are essentially useless. 

  1. Finally, you need to regularly review and update your living trust to reflect any changes in your life or financial circumstances. A trust is a living document that should adapt and evolve with you. 

The Bigger Picture: Why Estate Planning Matters 

Estate planning isn't just about who gets what after you're gone. It's about protecting your health and wealth while you're still here. It's about ensuring your wishes are carried out, and potential conflicts and delays are minimized. 

A last will and testament, for example, lets you specify how your assets should be distributed and who should administer your estate. But remember, a will must go through probate, which can be time-consuming and costly. To avoid probate, techniques like community property survivorship agreements, life estates in real property, and living trusts can come into play. 

Working with an experienced estate lawyer like me can make all the difference. I'll help you understand the ins and outs of Texas probate laws and help you establish a comprehensive plan that's tailored to your unique needs and goals. 

Get in Touch With an Attorney 

Probate doesn't have to be a daunting process. With the right strategies and legal guidance, you can ensure a smooth transition of your assets, providing peace of mind for yourself and your loved ones. Let's work together to create a detailed estate plan that honors your wishes and protects your assets. 

As an estate lawyer at the Law Office of Sharion L. Fisher, I am proud to serve clients not just in Dallas, Texas, but throughout Dallas County, Collin County, Ellis County, and Tarrant County. Contact my office today to discuss your estate planning options