Probate Promptly, Passivity Presents Problems!

By The Jacobson Law Firm, P.C.

As an attorney who handles a lot of probate cases, I too often come across situations that have become expensive problems when they could have been avoided by timely action. Case in point: a client recently engaged me to probate his mother’s will, which was properly executed and was pretty straightforward. The client and his sister wanted to sell his mom’s house and split the proceeds. Unfortunately, the client’s father had passed away nearly 20 years earlier, the father’s will was never probated, and his name was still on the title to their house. The client didn’t think this was a problem (so didn’t mention it in our intake meeting) and put the house on the market. When it came time to close on the sale, the title company said they couldn’t issue a title policy because his father’s estate had not been probated.

In Texas, a will can be probated up to 4 years after the person passes. If it’s been more than four years, it can still be probated as what’s called a “Muniment of Title”; however, the person presenting it has to show that he or she wasn’t at fault for not probating it earlier. In this case, we were able to get the father’s will probated, but it took nearly two months and the buyer opted out of the sale, so the client had to put the house back on the market.

Moral(s) of the story: 1) just because the will gives everything to mom doesn’t mean the will doesn’t have to be probated; 2) telling your lawyer ALL of the facts, even if you don’t think they’re important, is critical to getting good representation (i.e., when in doubt, mention it!), and 3) if your parent passes, make sure to discuss this with the surviving spouse. “Everybody knew Mom got everything” won’t pass muster with the title company.

As always, the above is legal information, not legal advice, and it’s based on Texas law because I’m a Texas lawyer. If a loved one passes, do yourself and your family a favor: contact an experienced probate lawyer and have a consultation. It may well save you money and aggravation in the long run!