Probate is a process by which a court supervises the authentication of a deceased person's last will and testament, should they have one when they die. If a person dies without a last will and testament, the process becomes much more difficult. In either case, the court supervises the administration of the deceased's estate in a probate proceeding.
Understanding the Probate Process
When a person dies with a will, he typically names in that will a person, or co-executors, to act as the executor of his estate. The executor is responsible for managing the person's estate, but first that person must get the court's permission to act as the executor by filing a petition for probate. In this petition, the executor must prove the validity of the will and identify all of the heirs to the estate.
Once the court is satisfied that the named executor is eligible to serve, it will issue Letters of Administration, which allow the executor to collect the property of the estate, prepare an inventory of the estate and, most importantly, pay any bills, taxes or acceptable creditor's claims against the estate. When these duties are completed, the executor can ask for a court hearing or final petition for a final distribution and accounting. Once that is approved by the probate court, any remaining assets may be distributed to the heirs.
Obtaining a Copy of a Will in Texas
First, it is important to know that it is against the law to destroy, alter or otherwise, conceal a will. In fact, in Texas it is a felony to do so.
A will is typically filed with the county clerk of the court in which the deceased person lived when he died, so this will be the person you should contact to ask for a copy of the will. Note there may be a small charge for copying, and you may have to wait a few days to pick up your copy of the will. You shouldn’t have to explain to the clerk why you want a copy of the will, since it is part of the public record.
If you are unsure of the county in which the person died, Texas has an online system, iDocket, where you can look up information in different jurisdictions for a fee. The service is costly, however, so your best option may be to call each county courthouse until you find the information you want.
It is important to know that probate is a public process, and all documentation associated with the probate case becomes part of the public record.
Melissa McCall is an accomplished lawyer, science journalist and legal analyst. She graduated cum laude from Syracuse University in 2003 and spent two years as a Judicial Law Clerk, followed by 2 years at a general litigation firm and a brief stint as the Director of Environmental Protection for the Virgin Islands. Since leaving the US Virgin Islands, she has worked as a legal recruiter, legal writer and legal analyst.