Alternatives to Probate

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Alternatives to Probate

Are you looking for alternatives to the probate process or attempting to avoid it altogether? Hunter Sargent, PLLC can provide you with options when it comes to planning your estate or the timely execution of a loved one’s estate. Call our office today at (940) 594-7754 or email us at for a consultation. If you’ve ever inherited money or assets after the passing of a loved one or have seen a “reading of the will” represented on TV, you’re likely somewhat familiar with the probate process. Probate is the legal process in which a deceased person's assets or property are distributed to their chosen heirs and their debts are settled upon death. While most Texans will choose to or be required to stick to traditional probate, there are many times when alternatives to probate may be available for the parties involved, saving unnecessary headaches when it comes time to settle a decedent’s estate. In the sections below, our firm will discuss each option, its benefits, the eligibility requirements, and its procedures so you can decide if an alternative is right for you and your family. Have a question that isn’t answered in the information below? Give us a call at (940) 594-7754 or email us at Hunter Sargent, PLLC is more than happy to assist you with your estate planning needs.

The Role of a Probate Lawyer

Perhaps the most important difference between a timely and productive estate settlement and one that drags on for months or even years is a family who has adequately planned their estate to avoid the long and complicated process that comes with probate. For many, this process begins with drafting an airtight will and choosing a trusted executor. For others, it begins many years later when choosing one of the many alternatives to probate. But regardless of where you and your family are in the estate planning process, the most important thing you can do is enlist the help of an estate lawyer. Estate lawyers work side by side with families to ensure that their assets and finances, along with their final wishes are protected, often over many years. They can also represent you in court should discrepancies arise during probate, providing both legal assistance, as well as advice and knowledge of the legal system. If you need help with your estate, or you need help understanding alternative options to probate, don’t hesitate to call Hunter Sargent, PLLC at (940) 594-7754 or email us at Our law firm is compassionate, knowledgeable, and equipped with the resources necessary for an effective estate settlement.

Understanding Probate

The probate process begins with the filing of a petition in the probate court, where the deceased person lived at the time of their death. Once the petition is received, the next course of action will be to identify the executor of the estate. In cases where the deceased person proactively wrote a will before the time of their death, the executor will most likely be named in the document. The executor’s job is to take inventory of the estate, identify and notify the heirs and creditors listed in the will, and to distribute the deceased assets in accordance with the will. If no executor is named, the court will appoint one on behalf of the deceased. If at any point discrepancies come up, the court may intervene to settle the dispute. In some cases, members of the deceased’s family or other beneficiaries named in the will may appeal a decision made by the probate court if they believe that an unlawful decision has been made regarding the estate.
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Can I Avoid Probate?

As you may have surmised, probate can easily become a lengthy and complicated process, and not every estate will be eligible for alternatives to probate. This is especially so when the estate in question is unusually large or a will exists but is unnecessarily vague. When alternatives to probate are unavailable, avoiding probate altogether can become an option if the owner of the estate decides to distribute their estate prior to their death through arrangements such as: Revocable Living Trust:Creating a revocable living trust allows individuals to transfer their assets into the trust during their lifetime. The trust then holds legal title to the assets, and upon the individual's death, the assets are distributed to the beneficiaries named in the trust without going through probate.

Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship: Holding property in joint tenancy with the right of survivorship means that when one owner passes away, the surviving owner(s) automatically inherit the deceased owner's share without the need for probate. Life Insurance and Retirement Accounts: Assets held in life insurance policies and retirement accounts often pass directly to named beneficiaries without going through probate. Keeping beneficiary designations updated is crucial. Gifts: Gifting assets during one's lifetime can reduce the size of the estate subject to probate. However, there may be gift tax considerations, and it's essential to plan carefully. Custodial Accounts for Minors: Establishing custodial accounts for minors and designating a custodian allows the assets to pass to the minor without probate. Once the minor reaches the age of majority, they gain control of the assets. While the estate holder may be able to avoid probate by taking these actions proactively, unless there are no further assets to distribute, probate will be required to validate the transferring of property and assets to the estate holder's family members and descendants until the estate is fully settled. However, there are still a few reasons your family may want to attempt to avoid probate anyway.

Pros and Cons of Avoiding Probate

Avoiding probate through various estate planning strategies has both advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, one of the key benefits is the potential for faster distribution of assets to heirs or beneficiaries. Probate can be a time-consuming process, and avoiding it may lead to a quicker transfer of wealth. Additionally, avoiding probate can help maintain privacy, as probate proceedings are typically matters of public record, whereas many alternative methods allow for a more private transfer of assets. Furthermore, certain strategies, such as using trusts, may offer greater flexibility in controlling how assets are distributed and managed. However, there are also cons to avoiding probate. Some methods, like establishing a trust, can involve upfront costs, and ongoing administrative efforts may be required. Additionally, not all assets are suitable for every avoidance method, and careful planning is necessary to ensure that all legal requirements are met. Each individual's situation is unique, and consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney is crucial to determining the most appropriate strategy based on specific needs and circumstances

Alternatives to Probate

At this point, you might be able to anticipate why many families in Texas seek alternatives to probate. Probate proceedings can be excruciatingly long and complicated. And they often cause unnecessary stress to the bereaved. While not every estate will be eligible for an alternative to probate, options do exist for some who fit the eligibility criteria and are seeking a more timely method of settling a loved one’s estate. While we have a variety of alternatives to probate outlined below, there may be other options available to your family that we haven’t listed here, and that may be a better fit with your specific estate planning needs. Hunter Sargent, PLLC can provide you with the knowledge and expertise needed to unlock a speedy and efficient estate settlement. Call us today at (940) 594-7754 or email us at for a consultation.

Small Estate Affidavit

A small estate affidavit is a legal document designed to simplify the probate process for small estates, providing an alternative to a formal probate proceeding. This affidavit is typically used when the deceased person's assets fall below a certain threshold — typically $75,000. Instead of going through the lengthy and formal probate process, heirs or beneficiaries can use the small estate affidavit to claim the assets left by the deceased. The document typically includes information about the deceased person, details of the estate's value, and a declaration that the estate qualifies for simplified probate procedures.

Transfer on Death Deed

A Transfer On Death Deed, often abbreviated as a TODD, is a legal instrument that allows property owners to designate a beneficiary who will inherit the property upon the owner's death without the need for probate. With a TODD, the property owner retains full control and ownership rights over the property during their lifetime, but upon their death, the designated beneficiary automatically assumes ownership without the necessity of court involvement. Transfer on death deeds are recognized in many states, including Texas, and are particularly useful for individuals who wish to simplify the transfer of real estate assets to their chosen heirs while avoiding the complexities associated with probate court.

Judicial Determination of Heirship

A judicial determination of heirship is a legal process used in situations where a deceased person has not left a will, and the heirs need a court order to officially establish their inheritance rights. This process typically involves filing a petition with the probate court, requesting a judicial determination of who the legal heirs are and their respective shares in the deceased person's estate. The court will conduct hearings, review evidence, and may appoint an attorney ad litem to represent any unknown or unborn heirs. Ultimately, the court issues an order officially determining the legal heirs and their respective entitlements to the estate. While you’ll need to work directly with the court during a judicial determination of heirship, the process will be much shorter than going through a typical probate process.

Muniment of Title

Muniment of title refers to a legal document that serves as evidence of ownership or entitlement to a property or asset, particularly in the context of probate proceedings. In the probate process, when an individual passes away, their estate often goes through a court-supervised administration to settle debts and distribute assets. A muniment of title, in this context, typically refers to a document such as a will or a court order that establishes the deceased person's right to a particular property or asset. This document serves as a crucial piece of evidence, allowing the probate court to recognize and facilitate the transfer of ownership according to the deceased person's wishes as outlined in their will or as determined by the court,

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    While this website provides general information, it does not constitute legal advice. Any communication with Hunter Sargent, PLLC via e-mail or through this website does not constitute or create an attorney-client relationship and is not privileged or confidential.