Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Texas Probate Administration and the Estate Inventory

In part, the probate administration of an estate involves gathering the assets of the person who died. Part of this process includes preparing an “Inventory, Appraisement, and List of Claims” to be filed by the estate’s representative (also called the “executor” or “administrator”) no later than the 90th day after the court has entered the order appointing that representative.

The “inventory” portion must list all items of property that belonged to the person who died (called the “Decedent”). It must identify all real estate located in the State of Texas, oil & gas leases, bank accounts, brokerage accounts, stocks/bonds, retirement accounts, life insurance policies (but only if made payable to the estate, rather than a specific beneficiary), cars, boats and other vehicles, fine jewelry, fine art, antiques, household furnishings, and every other item of personal property – including clothing and personal effects. Some categories can be grouped together for ease of reference, but it is best to identify each item of significant value separately. Finally, the list should describe whether the item was part of the Decedent’s separate property or community property (which may be hard to understand without legal advice).

The “appraisement” portion means that the estate’s representative must assign a value to each item of property listed in the inventory. Although the representative is not required to hire professional appraisers (unless ordered to do so by the Court), he or she must try to ascertain the fair value of each item and not merely make a wild guess. He should review property tax appraisals, vehicle buyers’ guide (such as Kelly Blue Book or Edmund’s), invoices or receipts from recent purchases, and similar references. For particularly difficult-to-value items, such as fine art or an ownership interest in a business, he should consider hiring an accountant or appraiser. The fees for these consultants may be paid from the estate (as “administrative costs”).

The “list of claims” portion of this document does not mean the claims that creditors, heirs or beneficiaries may have against the Decedent’s property. Instead, it is a list of claims that the Decedent may have had against others for debts owed or property kept by third parties. For example, if the Decedent died in an accident, his estate may have a “claim” against an insurance carrier or another person for medical expenses or wrongful death.

The Inventory, Appraisement and List of Claims is one of the most important documents filed in any probate proceeding. Because few people have had experience with preparing such legal documents, because the method for apportioning property between separate and community can be difficult to grasp, and because the method for valuation may be complex, the representative should always work with an attorney (and may wish to work with other professionals) in preparing this document.

Notices to Beneficiaries By Executors Under Texas Wills

When someone dies with a will (the “Decedent”) in the State of Texas, the representative of his estate (also called the “executor” or “administrator”) must give notice of the probate proceeding to every beneficiary under that will, which includes the following information:

• The name and address of the beneficiary to whom the notice is given;
• The Decedent's name;
• That the Decedent's will has been admitted to probate;
• That the beneficiary to whom the notice is given has been named as a beneficiary in the will;
• The estate representative's name and contact information; and
• Attach a copy of the will admitted to probate, as well as the court’s order admitting the will to probate.

A beneficiary is any “person, entity, state, governmental agency of the state, charitable organization, or trust entitled to receive real or personal property under the terms of a Decedent's will.”

The notice is required by Texas Probate Code § 128A. It must be sent by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, no later than the 60th day after the order admitting the Decedent’s will to probate, unless: (a) the beneficiary has signed a “waiver” that acknowledges receipt of a copy of the Decedent’s will and specifically waives the right to receive notice under Section 128A; or (b) the beneficiary has entered an appearance in the probate action prior to the date of the order admitting the Decedent’s will to probate. However, most Texas courts will not require this statutory notice when there is only one beneficiary under the Decedent’s will and that beneficiary is also the estate’s representatives.

Notice under Section 128A is required in all proceedings related to a Decedent’s will, including actions admitting the will to probate only as a “muniment of title.”

The estate’s representative must also file an affidavit with the probate court no later than the 90th day after the Decedent’s will is admitted to probate which states that he or she complied with the provisions of Section 128A.