Problem Solved – 85th Legislature Hits the Bullseye

It turns out that the Texas 85th Legislature was pretty creative with probate problem-solving. This should delight administrators and executors throughout our land.

The first problem concerned that pesky law requiring a will to be probated within 4 years from the date of death. Some judges interpreted that to mean that the will had to be actually admitted to probate within the 4 year period – a process which required filing an application, waiting for citation to be posted, having a hearing, and the judge signing a written order. Since it takes a lot longer in some counties to have all of that done, there was an obvious inequity in how the law was administered. The Legislature fixed that by clarifying that only the application had to be filed within 4 years. Problem solved.

The second problem involved the nuts and bolts of the actual probate – the law required that when an asset was left to several beneficiaries, then every beneficiary had to receive an “undivided” share of that asset. That obviously caused some problems when the asset was something like a television or a silver tea set, neither of which could be divided equally. The answer was to give an independent executor greater discretion in making those types of distributions. Now the executor may make distributions in equal or unequal shares, and then adjust the total distribution to adjust for differences in the value. For example, Marjorie receives the silver tea set worth $140, and Bennie receives $140 cash. Problem solved.

The third problem involved the requirement that a personal representative publish notice of the probate in a newspaper printed in the county where the letters were issued (the county of probate). Turns out that a lot of newspapers aren’t physically printed in the county where they are circulated. The solution was to authorize publication in a newspaper “of general circulation” in the county where the letters are issued. Problem solved.

The fourth problem concerned a law that allowed an independent executor to file an affidavit instead of filing an inventory with the court. This had the benefit of keeping the decedent’s property from being listed in the public records. However, the executor still had to provide each beneficiary with an inventory of the property. Turns out that some executors were forgetting about the last part, with the result that beneficiaries were completely in the dark about estate assets. The fix was to pass a new law that authorizes the court to fine the executor up to $1,000 if the executor misrepresents that all of the required beneficiaries received the inventory. Problem solved.

The final problem was about dependent administrators and the final inventory that they have to file with the court. The law required them to show that all state inheritance taxes have been paid. However, Texas, happily, no longer has an inheritance tax. The solution was to remove that requirement from the final inventory. Problem solved.

Five instances of government working for the people. Washington, are you listening?

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The information contained in this article is general information only and does not constitute legal advice.