Dissolving an Estate in Texas

by Jeff Franco

Dissolving an estate in Texas refers to the process of distributing a decedent’s property to heirs and beneficiaries, regardless of whether a will exists or not. Under Texas law, a probate court must oversee the dissolution of most estates; however, the level of oversight necessary can vary depending on a number of factors.

Probating Texas Estates

To begin dissolving an estate, an interested party must file an application with a Texas probate court. Generally, this is done by the person who the decedent appoints as the executor in her will, or if no will exists, by one of the heirs who is eligible to receive part of the estate under the Texas intestacy laws. Within a few weeks of this application, the court will officially establish that the decedent is no longer alive, whether the decedent left a legally enforceable will or not, and will appoint the executor. However, the length of time it takes to dissolve an estate depends on whether the estate has an independent or dependent executor.

Independent versus Dependent Executor

Whenever a Texas probate court recognizes an independent executor, the executor has the authority to dissolve the estate with minimal involvement by the court, which can significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to transfer all property in the estate to each heir. For the court to recognize the executor as independent, a legally valid will must specifically name the executor. In the event that a will doesn’t exist or is unenforceable, an executor can obtain independence if all the potential heirs and beneficiaries of the estate unanimously agree. In this case, the executor is free to dissolve the estate and doesn’t need to obtain approval from the court before making each distribution. If the executor is dependent, court approval for all distributions is necessary; the executor must also post a bond, which is similar to obtaining an insurance policy that protects the estate and its beneficiaries in the event the executor steals or misapplies estate property.

Estates without Will

In the event that no will exists, or one exists but isn’t legally enforceable, Texas probate courts must dissolve the estate in accordance with the intestacy laws – which essentially determine who the heirs of an estate are. When the decedent is unmarried at the time of his death, dissolving the estate requires the executor to distribute all property to the decedent’s children in equal shares. But if a spouse survives the decedent, the spouse inherits all community property and one-third of all separate property, with the remaining property going to the decedent’s children if the children are also the children of the current spouse. The Texas intestacy laws provide instructions on how to dissolve the estate for all possible scenarios by applying a standard hierarchy of potential heirs to a decedent’s estate.

Creditor Notice

A Texas estate is dissolved once all property of the estate is transferred to the proper beneficiaries and heirs. As part of the probate process, the executor must provide notice of the decedent’s death to preexisting creditors by publishing a notice to creditors in the country in which the probate proceeding is pending. Creditors then have the opportunity to file a claim against the estate in the probate court to obtain payment for the decedent’s outstanding debts.