Texas offers some probate shortcuts for "small estates." These procedures make it easier for survivors to transfer property left by a person who has died. You may be able to transfer a large amount of property using simplified probate procedures or without any probate court proceedings at all -- by using an affidavit. And that saves time, money, and hassle.
Here are the ways you can skip or speed up probate. (If the affidavit procedure is used, there's no need to use the simplified probate procedure.)
Claiming Property With a Simple Affidavit
Texas has a procedure that allows inheritors to skip probate altogether when the value of all the assets left behind is less than a certain amount. All an inheritor has to do is prepare a short document, stating that he or she is entitled to a certain asset. This document, signed under oath, is called an affidavit. When the person or institution holding the property -- for example, a bank where the deceased person had an account -- gets the affidavit and a copy of the death certificate, it releases the asset.
The out-of-court affidavit procedure is available in Texas if there is no will, and the value of the entire estate, not including homestead and exempt property, is $50,000 or less. A probate judge must approve the affidavit. It can be used to transfer homestead, but no other real estate. There is a 30-day waiting period. Tex. Prob. Code Ann. § 137. (Tex. Est. Code § 205 as of Jan. 1, 2014.)
Simplified Probate Procedures
Texas has a simplified probate process for small estates. To use it, an executor files a written request with the local probate court asking to use the simplified procedure. The court may authorize the executor to distribute the assets without having to jump through the hoops of regular probate.
You can use the simplified small estate process in Texas if The value of the property doesn't exceed what's needed to pay the family allowance and certain creditors. Tex. Prob. Code Ann. § 143. (Tex. Est. Code § 354.001 as of Jan. 1, 2014.) "Independent administration" is available, regardless of value of estate, if it's requested in the will or if all inheritors agree to it. Tex. Prob. Code Ann. § 145. (Tex. Est. Code § 401 as of Jan. 1, 2014.)
For More Information
For help determining if an estate qualifies for one of these probate shortcuts, or handling an estate in general, see The Executor's Guide, by Mary Randolph (Nolo), or Estate Planning Basics, by Denis Clifford (Nolo).