The probate process can be long and drawn-out, costing your survivors time as well as money. Fortunately, Texas offers a probate shortcut for "small estates." If the property you leave behind at your death is below a certain amount, Texas allows the property to be transferred more quickly and with less hassle. In other words, if your estate qualifies as "small," your loved ones may be able to use a simplified probate procedure.
Texas offers a procedure that allows inheritors to skip probate altogether. To qualify, the estate (the property you own at death) must meet these requirements:
If your estate meets the requirements listed above, your inheritors can sign a document under oath, called a small estate affidavit. (Here's a sample affidavit.) The affidavit must include certain information, such as:
All of the distributees must sign this affidavit, along with two disinterested witnesses—meaning two people who aren't inheriting property. (Tex. Est. Code § 205.002.)
After the judge approves the affidavit, the distributees can get a certified copy of the affidavit and present it to any person or institution holding property of the deceased—for example, a bank where the deceased person had an account. After that, the person or institution releases the asset to the distributees.
For more help handling an estate in general, see The Executor's Guide, by Mary Randolph (Nolo). For an introduction to how you can plan your estate to help your survivors, try Estate Planning Basics, by Denis Clifford (Nolo).
For more on Texas estate planning issues, see our section on Texas Estate Planning.