At some point in your lifetime, you may be a beneficiary in waiting. That is what beneficiaries of wills do – they wait for a will to be probated, they wait for information from the estate’s personal representative, they wait to receive their inheritance. Most estates settle and distribute within 2 years. Some estates take 20 years. That is a whole lot of waiting.
There is no easy way to learn how to be a beneficiary. The probate process can be opaque: prepare to be frustrated. There is usually only one attorney involved in a probate, and that attorney represents the personal representative, not you. The personal representative’s attorney will not give you legal advice because you are not the client.
That does not mean you have to go into the process blindly. You should know about some important deadlines that a personal representative must meet during a probate. Since 90% of Texas probate estates involve an independent personal representative who operates without court supervision, we’ll focus on deadlines that apply to them.
The first deadline is 20 days. That is how long the personal representative has to file a written oath and any bond after the court enters an order admitting a will to probate and appointing the personal representative. Once that is done, the personal representative is qualified to serve.
All the remaining deadlines run from the date the personal representative qualified to serve.
After qualifying, the personal representative must immediately take possession and control of the estate property. That means that, even if you will ultimately inherit estate property, you are obligated to turn that property over to the personal representative upon request.
Within 60 days the personal representative must send you a formal notice that you are a beneficiary of the estate.
Within 90 days the personal representative must provide you with a written inventory of the probate estate. If the decedent was your spouse, then after filing the inventory the personal representative may set aside and “deliver” the homestead and exempt property to you and start paying a family allowance.
After that initial flurry of activity, there may be up to a year of silence during which the personal representative is filing tax returns and paying claims against the estate. Once those tasks are completed, the personal representative can distribute the estate.
After fifteen months, you can demand that the personal representative give you an accounting of the estate. The personal representative has 60 days to provide the accounting to you.
If two years pass and the personal representative still has not distributed the estate, then you can apply to the court to order that the estate be partitioned and distributed.
These time periods apply to the simplest of probate estates and may end up varying. The personal representative can always apply for an extension of time to prepare the inventory or distribute the estate.
Probate cases go a lot smoother if the personal representative and the beneficiaries are polite and professional with each other. A prudent personal representative will go the extra mile to keep you informed as the probate progresses. You, as beneficiary, should be respectful of their time and reasonable in your expectations about communications. You are not entitled to, and should not expect, daily or weekly updates. Your communications should go through the personal representative’s attorney.
If the personal representative is not doing the job, then consult with your own attorney. As a beneficiary, you have rights. You may need to enforce them.
Hammerle Finley Can Help With Your Probate Needs
Virginia Hammerle is in her fourth decade of practicing law. She is Board Certified in Civil Trial by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and an Accredited Estate Planner. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.hammerle.com. This column does not constitute legal advice.