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.