Time to Probate a Will in Texas

by Joseph Scrofano

    A Texas decedent's estate must be probated under most circumstances. To go through probate, the will's personal representative, or executor, must file it for probate in the county in which the testator resided at the time of death. In Texas, the personal representative usually has four years to probate the will.

    Personal Representative

    The personal representative owes what the law calls a “fiduciary duty” to the estate. In other words, the personal representative must at all times act in the estate’s best interest. The personal representative is responsible for taking inventory of the estate’s assets, paying all creditors and taxes, and then using the remaining proceeds to distribute the estate’s assets according to the instructions in the will.

    Probate Court

    Probate courts are special courts with judges who oversee how the personal representative administers the estate. A probate judge makes sure that the personal representative follows Texas laws and pays all necessary taxes. When parties dispute an aspect of the will or estate administration, and the personal representative cannot resolve the dispute, a probate judge may adjudicate the dispute.

    Notice

    Once the personal representative files the petition, the law considers the estate to be “open.” The personal representative must then publish an Official Notice to Creditors in the local newspaper and send a Notice of Administration to all interested parties, which may include creditors, named beneficiaries and other family members. Interested parties then have a set period of time to make claims against the estate.

    Discharge

    Once the personal representative inventories the estate, pays all debts and distributes the assets consistent with the will’s instructions, she may then file a petition for discharge to have the probate judge close the estate -- but only as long as any and all disputes have been resolved. The estate can still be probated if the personal representative fails to file for probate within a four-year period. However, the procedure is much more complicated, as in addition to the deadline for beginning the probate process, Texas law imposes several time requirements for each step of the process.

    About the Author

    An attorney and founder of ScrofanoLaw, a general practice law firm in Washington, D.C., Joseph Scrofano has been writing on legal issues since 2008. He holds a Juris Doctor from the Washington College of Law, a Bachelor of Arts with special honors from the University of Texas and a master's degree in international affairs from American University's School of International Service.