Probate is not mandatory in Texas. Beneficiary designations, survivorship agreements, and joint accounts with rights of survivorship allow many assets to avoid probate, as these agreements pass outside the direction of a will. These are commonly called non-probate assets. However, real estate, bank accounts, motor vehicles, and closely held securities or original stock and bond certificates typically lack such will substitutes, and probate is often necessary to transfer title following death.
Death certificates are enough to collect most non-probate assets. The need for probate may not become apparent until the bank or another custodian requests “letters.” This refers to letters testamentary or letters of administration, which are issued by the probate court once a personal representative of the decedent’s estate has been appointed and has qualified by filing their oath and, sometimes, by also posting a bond.
A request for letters is a custodian’s way of demanding probate. Unfortunately, it is not possible to probate only a single asset. Instead, once probate is authorized by the court, the executor or administrator is obligated to follow a comprehensive set of procedures designed to inform creditors and beneficiaries, resolve debts, and document a new tax basis in probate assets. Harris County requires almost all executors and administrators to use an attorney.
We do not offer fixed fee probate. We charge by the hour, with rates varying from $350 to $425 for associate attorneys, less for staff, and more for shareholders. We require an evergreen retainer, usually $5,000, but sometimes $10,000, depending on factors such as asset complexity, litigation, and foreign law.
To minimize fees, we provide detailed questionnaires in advance and encourage clients to complete as much as possible before our first meeting.