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How to Avoid Probate in Texas: 4 Tips from a Probate Lawyer

Unless you’ve been invited to visit the Queen, a court date is never something to look forward to easily.  This is true of criminal court, bankruptcy court…and, trust a probate lawyer to tell you, this is also true of probate court. Unless you like paying fees, filling out forms, and shouldering stress, it is worth taking time now to learn how to avoid probate, if that is in the best interests of the deceased’s estate and it beneficiaries/heirs.

How to Avoid Probate: 4 Common Strategies

1. Joint Ownership with Right to Survivorship

Jointly-owned property with “right to survivorship” immediately passes to the surviving owner when their counterpart dies. Probate need not intervene, but joint ownership must, of course, be proven and established under the applicable provisions of the Texas Estates Code. In Texas, some things are created as joint ownership with right of survivorship by checking off a box, as in a bank account.  But, otherwise, you can reach this result by taking affirmative action to achieve the “right to survivorship”.

    • Joint Tenancy

Simple joint tenancy under Texas law does NOT create a right to survivorship.  Rather, if couples share ownership of valuable property (such as real estate, vehicles, financial accounts, etc.) survivorship rights can be easily established by signing a joint tenancy agreement pursuant to the Texas Estates Code.  Then, upon the death of one owner, assets held in joint tenancy with the right to survivorship will automatically pass to the surviving owner.

    • Survivorship Community Property

Texas is a community property state.  You can only give away YOUR 50% of community property.  However, you can make this easier if you want your 50% share to go to your spouse by signing an agreement with your spouse to own assets as “survivorship community property.” Doing so means that when one of you dies, the other retains ownership of your shared assets without the need for court intervention.

2. Revocable Trusts

A revocable trust (or living trust) is a legal arrangement that allows you to title property under the name of the trust rather than yourself. As trustee, you retain control of the trust property until you die, at which point a successor trustee takes over and distributes the trust’s contents to beneficiaries previously designated in the trust agreement.

Probate plays no part in this process, and a revocable trust can be created for essentially any asset you own. What’s more, a trust agreement allows you to stipulate how and when trust assets are distributed, providing you an important degree of control over your life’s work, even after you die.

Probate law firms are your best resource for learning about the versatile ways revocable trusts can be used to support your estate planning goals.

3. Beneficiary or Transfer-on-Death Deeds

In Texas, you can sign a transfer-on-death deed (sometimes referred to as a beneficiary deed) or a Lady Bird Deed to any real property you own. As implied by the name, when you die, relevant property is automatically transferred to whoever is named in the deed. However, you should consult with an estate planning attorney to learn the pros and cons of both types of deeds and how your particular facts may impact your decision on which one to use.

Probate law firms are a dime a dozen in Texas, and yet one is not necessarily as good as any other. Should you err in your attempt to avoid probate, or choose an avenue poorly-suited to your estate, you expose your loved ones to an expensive world of stress and confusion. Seeking experienced counsel is paramount.

To learn more about how to avoid probate—or to address any other matter related to estate planning and administration—do not hesitate to reach out to the The Law Firm of Blanche D. Smith either by calling (936) 301-0111 or using the contact form below.

Monique Hineline

Smith & Smith are very professional, informative, and relatable with examples and stories to ease the estate planning process. I had the best time at their lunch and learn. Even if you already have your estate planning in place I highly recommend attending a lunch and learn. Thanks Smith & Smith!