As a Houston probate lawyer, I get a lot of questions concerning the probate process in Texas, and particularly in Houston. The probate process in general is governed by the Texas Estates Code, and will be the same throughout Texas. Another question is “what is the easiest way to probate an estate in Texas?” There are a number of different procedures depending on the circumstances, but today I am going to focus on probate in the context of a “muniment of title”.
Often, the assets of a decedent’s estate require that his or her last will and testament be admitted to probate and a full administration opened. This usually involves a fair amount of paperwork, including notice to beneficiaries, notice to creditors, and the preparation of an inventory listing the decedent’s probate assets and date of death values. If the decedent had a bank account that was not a “right of survivorship” account, banks will often require “letters testamentary”, which are letters received by the executor of the estate after qualifying to serve as executor. If any banks or other institutions require letters testamentary in order to access accounts, a full administration is usually needed.
However, if no administration is necessary, it is often possible to probate the will as a muniment of title. In order to probate the will as a muniment of title, the decedent’s estate must not owe any debts, other than debts that are secured by an interest in real property, such as a mortgage on your home. Additionally, this procedure may not be available if the decedent applied for or received Medicaid benefits.
To probate a Texas will as a muniment of title, you will need to file an application to probate the will much like you would if you were going to open an administration. However, the application will state that no administration is necessary and request that the court admit the will as a muniment of title only. A hearing in open court will then take place to determine whether the will is valid and should be admitted to probate. If the decedent lived in Houston, the hearing will be held in a Harris County probate court. If the decedent lived in The Woodlands or another suburb outside Harris County, the hearing will be held in a county court at law.
Once the will is admitted to probate, the process is almost complete. The judge will issue an order admitting the will to probate, and a certified copy of the will and the order are recorded in the real property records of the county where the decedent owned any property. In this way, the court documents act much like a deed that is sufficient to pass title to the decedent’s property.