The probate court also has jurisdiction to hear lawsuits appertaining to or incident to an estate of a decedent or ward and actions by or against a personal representative of an estate of a decedent or ward. It is common for the court to hear any type of civil litgation, including personal injury, property damage, breach of fiduciary duty and family law. The probate courts are charged with the responsibility of independently maintaining contact with every person under a guardianship each year. This is done through court visitor programs developed and maintained by each court.
After opening the probate case with the court, the personal representative inventories and collects the decedent's property. Next, he pays any debts and taxes, including estate tax in the United States, if the estate is taxable at the federal or state level. Finally, he distributes the remaining property to the beneficiaries, either as instructed in the will, or under the intestacy laws of the state.
"Estate" is the legal term used to define your property and money—basically, everything that belongs to you. Estate planning attorneys tell you different strategies you can use to transfer your belongings after you die. By planning your estate, you can maximize its value by minimizing taxes and eliminating court costs and interference. Estate planning attorneys also help you control and protect your estate during your lifetime, by writing documents that allow you to transfer property and money to children, charities, or others in a way you desire.
If you are handling the estate of a Texas resident and the value of the estate was $75,000 or less, you do not have to go through the probate process. It does not matter if the decedent left a will or not. What is important is the value of their estate. If the value of the estate is under the small estate limit, the estate can be distributed without a court proceeding.
As a result, the individual has a lower effective cost of giving, which provides additional incentive to make those gifts. And of course, an individual may wish to make charitable contributions to a variety of causes. Estate planners can work with the donor in order to reduce taxable income as a result of those contributions, or formulate strategies that maximize the effect of those donations.
Most estates in the United States include property that is subject to probate proceedings. If the property of an estate is not automatically devised to a surviving spouse or heir through principles of joint ownership or survivorship, or otherwise by operation of law, and was not transferred to a trust during the decedent's lifetime, it is generally necessary to "probate the estate", whether or not the decedent had a valid will. For example, life insurance and retirement accounts with properly completed beneficiary designations should avoid probate, as will most bank accounts titled jointly or made payable on death.
As a general rule, the original document must be presented for probate. Probate of a copy or duplicate of a will is not permitted unless the absence of the original is satisfactorily explained to the court. If a properly proved copy or duplicate of a will that has been lost or destroyed is presented to the court, it may be admitted to probate. Some states have special proceedings to handle such occurrences. A thorough and diligent search for the will is necessary before a copy can be probated as a lost will.
If a revocable living trust is used as a part of an estate plan, the key to probate avoidance is ensuring that the living trust is "funded" during the lifetime of the person establishing the trust. After executing a trust agreement, the settlor should ensure that all assets are properly re-registered in the name of the living trust. If assets (especially higher value assets and real estate) remain outside of a trust, then a probate proceeding may be necessary to transfer the asset to the trust upon the death of the testator.
This document is an agreement reached by all the heirs as to how an estate should be distributed. A FSA, for example, might be used to correct the effects of a poorly written will or to resolve probate disputes. In probate matters, the Court does not have the authority to either approve or disapprove a FSA. After all parties sign the agreement and it is filed with the Court, it acts as a binding and enforceable contract.
Believe it or not, you have an estate. In fact, nearly everyone does. To name a few examples, your estate includes your car, home, bank accounts, life insurance, and investments—and no matter how large or how modest—it is all part of your estate. But estate planning goes beyond your possessions: it is the steps people take during their lives to strategize and prepare for incapacity, illness, and passing on. Estate planning is ultimately taking care of your loved ones by taking care of yourself.