The term probate refers to the process, supervised by the court of jurisdiction, in which a decedent's estate is distributed to either his or her heirs at law or the beneficiaries of the decedent's will.

If there is no will, the heirs at law are determined by state statute and the property is strictly distributed according to this law. In Texas, the court will appoint an Administrator of the estate and it will oversee the Administrators duties that include liquidating the estate, paying the final bills, paying the taxes and making the final distributions. The Administrator is paid for this service out of the assets of the estate.

A properly drawn will provides the Executor of an estate the freedom of winding up the business of the estate and making the distributions with little court supervision. Having a properly drawn will also saves the estate potentially large attorney's fees and minimizes exposure of the assets to the probate process.

Assets with a contractual beneficiary, such as life insurance, survivorship accounts and trusts will not be subject to probate. Keep in mind, avoiding probate does not avoid estate taxes. A proper estate plan suited to your personal needs will preserve your legacy!

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