San Antonio Probate Lawyer
Probate is the process used in Texas to transfer the assets of a deceased person to others, such as creditors or beneficiaries, and finalize the decedent’s legal and financial affairs. Good estate planning may eliminate or reduce the need for probate, which involves oversight by a court. However, many families will be required to enter probate, because their relative died without a will, a will required probate, or because of the complexity of the estate involved, including whether the estate is contested. Our San Antonio probate attorneys can help guide you through the probate process as an administrator, beneficiary, or someone who wishes to contest a will.
Transferring an Estate in San Antonio, Texas
Probate is a court process. Our San Antonio probate attorneys appear regularly in court and can assist with that process, but the first step is determining if probate is the best way to finalize your loved one’s affairs. In some cases, court may not be necessary. Good estate planning preparation often reduces or eliminates the need for probate and court. There are different ways to help close a decedent’s estate in Texas, such as:
- Affidavit of Heirship: Avoids court completely, but is only advisable in limited circumstances, including when there is no will and there are very few assets and they are uncontested.
- Small Estate Affidavit: Court hearings may be avoided by using a Small Estate Affidavit when someone passes away without a will. San Antonio’s Probate Courts allow smaller estates to avoid a hearing.
- Muniment of Title: The fastest, easiest way to probate a will in Texas. However, it requires a valid will and an estate without debts, other than a mortgage on the decedent’s house. Court is required.
- Independent Administration: Requires a hearing, but allows the administrator of an estate to make decisions without seeking ongoing approval from the court related to selling property, paying debts, closing accounts, etc. through the use of “letters testamentary.”
- Dependent Administration: Requires multiple hearings to request approval from the court for various actions related to the estate. Dependent administration may be required when the decedent owed significant debts, the estate is contested, or there are other complications.
Texas Estate Planning Solutions
Our San Antonio estate planning attorneys start by looking for ways to avoid probate, a court process that can increase expenses and delays for those who assume the burden of a decedent’s estate. At the same time, our lawyers assess our clients’ needs during their lifetimes to help create customized solutions. Many issues can be addressed through solutions such as irrevocable trusts, insurance, or pay on death accounts. Typically, these solutions operate without the need for court approval. Estate planning lawyers can prepare documents to assist you, as well.
In Texas, certain standard documents are used to help people answer those estate planning questions. Where your concerns are common, estate planning may be relatively straightforward. Others need much more customized planning that will require consultation with other professions such as CPAs, trust officers, mental health professionals, and health care providers. The primary goal of estate planning attorneys is preparing to solve problems without the need for probate court. Typically, the following documents can solve most estate planning issues:
- Power of Attorney (“POA”): a POA gives another person some of your authority to conduct certain affairs, such as bank transfers, bill payments, property maintenance, management of retirement accounts, sales of real estate, etc. When you give another person a POA, you select which powers that person can exercise, how long the POA is in effect, under what circumstances the POA remains effective, and whatever other limits are appropriate. For example, you could give someone a POA that only allows them to care for your pets while you are on vacation or you could obtain a Power of Attorney to pay bills for a person who is incarcerated. POAs are used while people are still alive and mentally capable of handling their affairs, but it is more convenient for someone else to take care of things.
- Durable Power of Attorney: A durable POA is like a regular Power of Attorney, but it grants authority to act on behalf of the person who signs it even when that person becomes incapacitated. Incapacity could be medical, such as during a hospital stay, or permanent, such as for someone with advanced dementia.
- Medical Power of Attorney: A medical POA specifically authorizes someone to make medical decisions for the person who gave them the Medical POA. Most health care providers will not follow the decisions of a person with a non-medical POA. Instead, without the clear guidance provided by a Medical Power of Attorney, doctors, and hospitals will consult the next-of-kin or their own policies. So, if you are concerned about who will make medical decisions for you in an emergency or as a result of long term incapacity, you should consider a Medical POA.
- Designation of Guardianship If Need Arises: This document gives guidance to courts and other entities or persons about who you would like to be made your guardian, if you need a guardian. Parents often want to designate a guardian for their children, in case something happens to them, such as a car accident that kills both parents. Often, spouses or caregivers, are concerned about who will look after an incapacitated or disabled person for whom they are responsible. A Designation of Guardianship If Need Arises can help address all these issues.
- Do Not Resuscitate (“DNR”) or No Heroic Measures Directive: A DNR directs medical personnel NOT to use “heroic measures” to save a critically ill person and/or NOT to leave someone on life support when there is no significant medical likelihood of recovery. Many people prefer a DNR to a Medical POA because it is more specific and because it takes the burden of decision making away from family or friends who may struggle with making such a difficult decision.
- Last Will and Testament (“Will”): Wills are the most common estate planning documents, in most people’s minds. A will is a set of instructions for how to divide your estate. Without a Will, a person’s estate (all of their assets and debts) is handled by the default provisions of the Texas Estate Code. A Self-Proving Will simplifies the probate (court procedures for handling a deceased person’s estate) process, making it faster and less expensive in the vast majority of cases. A Will is also important to alleviate the burden of deciding how to handle a person’s estate that otherwise may fall on grieving loved ones. Wills vary in complexity and you should consult an estate planning attorney before drafting your own will.
San Antonio Probate Lawyers Can Help
Hoelscher Gebbia Cepeda, PLLC’s San Antonio probate attorneys can help you navigate the complexities of handling a deceased person’s estate by determining the easiest, least expensive probate or non-probate method appropriate. Our lawyers can help prepare and file probate documents, administer estates, and, when required, litigate contested probate cases. In fact, our experienced trial attorneys are well recognized in the media and among our colleagues. Call (210) 222-9132 today or contact us online for a consultation in person or remotely.