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What to Do After a Family Member with a Will Dies

Law Office of Todd A. Wilson > Estate Planning  > What to Do After a Family Member with a Will Dies

What to Do After a Family Member with a Will Dies

What to Do After a Family Member with a Will Dies | TAW Law Texas

Your Step-by-Step Guide to Handling a Loved One’s Will & Texas Probate After a Death

The death of a loved one can open up more than just profound grief. It can also unleash a series of essential tasks that surviving family members may need to complete as part of the decedent’s estate — and as required by state law. 

With that, you could find yourself on the front lines of dealing with the will, interacting with Texas courts, and juggling various deadlines. Navigating all that can be easier when you know what to do with a will, what other documents to gather, and what comes next. 

To that end, the following explains what needs to happen after a family member who has a will passes away in Texas, detailing: 

If you need answers now from a top probate attorney in Austin, contact TAW Law Texas. We routinely counsel clients through probate, both with and without wills and in contested and uncontested cases. We also offer free, confidential consultations, so you can get the answers you need whenever you need them.

4 Steps to Take After a Loved One Passes Away, Leaving a Will Behind

When a loved one dies with a will, here are the first things you may need to do if you’re the spouse, parent, or adult child of the individual who has passed away. Keep in mind that you may be on deck to complete these tasks for other relatives or close friends too if they name you as their executor. 

1. Obtain Multiple Copies of the Death Certificate.

The easiest method is simply requesting death certificates through the funeral home. If you forgot to do that, visit the county clerk’s office or click here to request copies of a death certificate online in Texas. If you visit the county clerk’s office, you may be able to get the copies you need within a reasonable time. If you request these copies online or by phone, you will likely have to wait weeks for them to arrive.

When you’re requesting copies of the death certificate in Texas, it’s important to know that: 

  • You’ll need to have certain info readily available when making these requests: Specifically, you have to know the name of the decedent, the date of death (or birth), the county in which the decedent was born or died, and the decedent’s parents’ full names before they were married. You’ll also need to provide your name, address, and telephone number while explaining your relationship to the decedent and why you need the death certificates.
  • You’ll likely want to get about 10 to 20 copies: Financial institutions, life insurance companies, and other relatives may need a copy of the death certificate. So can other institutions that you may need to interact with as part of the probate process. If you have copies handy, you may be able to advance through the next steps in Texas probate with greater efficiency.
  • Buying copies together can be judicious: Currently, the first copy costs $21, with additional copies purchased at the same time charged at a rate of only $4 per copy. Given that you may need to give the death certificate to multiple parties, it can be prudent to get several copies at once, instead of going back to the county clerk and paying that first copy fee each time.

2. Locate the Will.

Track down the original will (i.e., wet signature), locating the latest version. While this can be relatively straightforward in some cases, in others, it’s far more of a challenge, particularly if: 

  • The decedent never told you where the will is kept.
  • You don’t know if the will has ever been updated. 
  • You’re unsure if a will exists in the first place. 

In those trickier cases, click here for more answers. 

3. File the Will with a Texas Probate Court.

Once you have the original will, file it with the probate court in the county where the decedent lived. This can be done through an experienced attorney or pro se. In Texas, the will has to be filed with the probate court within four years of the date of death.

Please note that: 

  • Probate is the process of validating the will: That could open up opportunities for other loved ones or potential heirs to raise challenges later, possibly complicating a case with will contests.
  • If the will isn’t filed by the given deadline, it can be as though it never existed: So, if the will is found five years after the decedent’s death, it could be deemed invalid. With that, the estate could be treated as though the decedent died intestacy, meaning without a will. Under these circumstances, Texas law — and not the will itself — would dictate how the estate is to be handled and distributed to the surviving heirs.

When it’s time to file the will with the court, you’ll likely need to bring other documents too, like a copy of the death certificate, while completing official court documents and paying filing fees to open up a probate case.

4. Proceed with Texas Probate. 

The next steps in probate will depend on whether everyone agrees that the will is valid. If so: 

  • The estate will be inventoried.
  • Creditors will be notified.
  • Debt claims against the estate will be evaluated, and valid claims will be paid.
  • The estate’s assets will be appraised, as or if needed.
  • The assets of the estate will be distributed to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the will once all legitimate creditor claims have been resolved.
  • A final accounting of the estate will be filed with the probate court, along with a request to close the estate.

If there are any disputes over the validity of the will, those will need to be addressed, heard in court, and resolved before the above can happen. 

Please be aware that:

  1. Uncontested probates tend to be more straightforward and predictable than contested probate cases. Still, both cases can come with their unique complexities.
  2. There’s a substantial amount of work to do to resolve a decedent’s estate in Texas, even when you know where the will is and you have a general understanding of what probate’s all about.

This is where an experienced probate attorney can offer invaluable assistance, helping with every last detail from day one to the day the estate is closed. 

The 5-star probate lawyers at TAW Law Texas have deep experience in all facets of probate in Texas. We’re also committed to providing client-first, value-focused service, which is why we are the first lawyers in Austin and Texas to offer Premium Probate services, an add-on option that covers asset searches, debt searches, and some executor tasks.

3 Documents to Compile After a Loved One Dies with a Will

After a loved one passes away, you’ll generally want to gather these key documents:

  1. The death certificate: As noted above, you’ll need to give a copy of the death certificate to multiple parties to get things accomplished moving forward.
  2. The original will: This will need to be filed with the court to open up the probate case.
  3. Court forms to open up a probate case: Some Texas courts, like the Travis County Probate Courts, make these forms available online. For others, you may need to get the forms in person.

Once probate is open, other essential documents you may need to obtain and retain can include: 

  • Letters Testamentary, designating you and/or another party as the executor
  • Estate inventories and appraisals to track and evaluate the value of all assets in the estate prior to their distribution
  • Notices to creditors and beneficiaries, alerting these parties that probate has been opened
  • Other documents, like tax returns, court notices, copies of documents or evidence filed with the court, and more.

As you assemble these documents, keep them in a safe place that you can easily access in case of an unexpected contest to the will or allegations that an executor has breached their duties. 

Recordkeeping and reporting can also come into play during certain parts of probate, which could also make these documents helpful later. So, if you’re in doubt, save the document until the case is closed. 

What to Do If You Can’t Find the Original Will

If a will exists and the original will cannot be located, Texas Estates Code §256.054 states that:

  • The legal presumption in these situations will be that the willmaker (testator) revoked his or her own will before passing away.
  • Texas probate courts should operate under this presumption, putting the burden to prove otherwise on the parties that open up a probate case.

As a result, the best steps in these circumstances would usually be to track down

  • A copy of the original will
  • A copy of any codicil to the original will, meaning a copy of documents updating or changing a will

With either or both of those items, the parties opening up probate will also need to submit a rebuttal to the legal assumption that the will was revoked by the testator, explaining the situation, why the original will cannot be located, and why that elusive document is still valid.

Crucially, this could create Texas probate cases in which: 

  • Lost wills or multiple copies of different versions of a will could spark challenges and contested probate cases. 
  • Lost codicils could put an original will back in play if the original will is still available. 
  • Lost wills and lost codicils could mean that Texas intestacy laws come into play, meaning the law (not the will) will dictate how the estate is to be distributed to the heirs.

For these reasons, it’s usually prudent to tell your executors where you keep your will, along with any codicils, so that:

  • They can easily locate those essential documents in the future.
  • Your wishes can be carried out exactly as intended after you pass. 

What to Do If You Can’t Find the Will At All

When a will exists and there’s no way to find a copy of it, you may need to take extra steps to prove its existence and to establish its contents. To that end, it may be necessary to present evidence and witnesses in court to verify that:

  • The decedent did, in fact, devise a will.
  • The will was fully executed and not subsequently revoked by the decedent.
  • The will specified certain distributions to particular beneficiaries.

This may be necessary when a will has been lost or destroyed before any copies were made, for example. Retaining a probate lawyer under these circumstances can be crucial to presenting a strong case.

If, however, there’s insufficient proof that a will did exist (or of its contents), the Texas probate court could rule accordingly, finding that Texas intestacy laws should be invoked instead.

How to Get More Answers About Wills & Probate in Texas

Texas probate can raise a lot of questions, concerns, and challenges that you do not have to grapple with alone. When it’s time for more answers, experienced support, and trusted counsel for wills and probate in Texas, it’s time to call the probate lawyers at TAW Law Texas.

Email us or call 512-827-9212 for a free, confidential consultation.

As top-rated Austin attorneys, we have an unshakeable reputation for providing extraordinary counsel and custom solutions to meet various needs and objectives related to Texas probate, wills, estate planning, trusts, and more in Travis County, Williamson County, Bastrop County, Blanco County, Hays County, and beyond. We are also dedicated to delivering optimal value, which is why we are the first probate law firm in Austin and throughout Texas to provide premium probate services.

Check out testimonials and reviews to see what past clients have to say about us and what we may be able to do for you.

Community Property v Separate Property | Austin Probate Lawyer | TAW Law TX

Todd A. Wilson

Todd A. Wilson has been practicing law since 2007, with the aim of educating all strata of society and sharing crucial insights about the importance of estate planning, probate, and more.

The Law Office of Todd A. Wilson (also known as TAW Law TX) offers affordable estate planning and probate services.