San Antonio Probate Attorneys
Protecting You & Your Rights Throughout Probate
When an individual passes away (becomes a “decedent”), the probate court steps in to ensure their last wishes are fulfilled, and their estate is distributed properly. If you find yourself named an executor or personal representative during a probate case, you may be unsure of what steps to take next.
At The Law Office of Derek S. Ritchie, PLLC, our San Antonio probate lawyers will work with you to navigate the probate process and ensure your rights remain protected throughout.
Common Terms in Probate
Understanding the following terms during probate can make the process easier:
- Testator: An individual who drafts and signs (executes) a will;
- Beneficiary: An individual named by a testator to receive property in a will;
- Executor: An individual named by the testator to help the probate court execute their will;
- Intestate: A person who dies without drafting a will. Their estate is then distributed according to their state’s intestacy laws;
- Heir: A person with a personal connection to a testator who may have the right to property or executor status if a will is invalid, they fail to appoint an executor, or in cases of intestacy;
- Creditor: A person or organization who loans money;
- Debtor: A person or organization who owes money to a creditor.
With those terms defined, let’s look at how probate works in Texas.
The Role of the Probate Court
After a person dies, their estate goes into probate. A probate court is then responsible for ensuring the decedent’s estate is properly distributed according to either their will (if they had one) or state intestacy laws (if no will was present).
If a will exists, the court will attempt to verify its legitimacy. To be valid in Texas, at least two witnesses must watch a testator either sign a will or direct someone to do so on their behalf and then sign the will themselves. The court will attempt to work with witnesses or other individuals involved in the will execution process (such as a public notary if the will was notarized) to verify its validity.
At this stage, the county court clerk will post a notice stating a probate application was filed for the decedent. At this point, anyone who wishes to contest the validity of the will can come forward to do so.
After determining the will is valid to the best of its knowledge, the probate court will see if the testator appointed an executor. If so, the court will work with that individual to handle the probate process. If the will fails to appoint an executor, the court will do so on the testator’s behalf, usually assigning an individual like an heir who has legal rights to the testator’s estate under intestacy laws.