Probate or Muniment of Title?
Contrary to popular belief, the traditional probate process in Texas is relatively easy. However, Texas also offers an even less complicated manner of disposing the estate of a loved one after he or she passes. Unique to Texas, probating a will as a Muniment of Title offers several benefits:
- Quickly transfers title of assets to the beneficiaries named in the will (assets typically include cars, family heirlooms, house(s), stocks, and other personal effects),
- Saves the estate money (by not having to send certain notices otherwise required during a regular probate process), and
- Eliminates further court action. (These orders are typically signed in an informal setting, such as the judge’s chambers).
What kind of will can I probate as Muniment of Title?
The catch for this straight-forward probate alternative is twofold:
- the deceased must not have left any debt, except debt secured by real property; and
- there should be no controversy surrounding the will and disposition of assets.
In other words, the deceased could have a mortgage, but no outstanding credit card debt, and the family must not be fighting. The Muniment of Title works best in situations where everyone involved is satisfied that the decedent executed his will when fully aware mentally and capable of understanding what document he was completing.
An example of a circumstance in which a Muniment of Title would not be appropriate could be when an elderly man suffering from cancer changes his will dramatically shortly before his death, and his heirs (i.e. adult children, grandchildren, etc.) suspect that his much-younger nurse/wife induced him into disinheriting most, if not all, of his children.
When is a Muniment of Title appropriate?
My loved one died 5 years ago, and I just found her will. A Muniment of Title might be the saving grace. While the law generally requires any will to be probated within four years of death, Texas courts have allowed wills after this four-year term to be probated as a muniment of title. The key consideration for the court will be whether there was due diligence on the part of the surviving family to find a will after death (i.e. a good excuse as to the five year gap).
What if I want to contest the will, but someone is attempting to probate it as a Muniment of Title? The short answer: act FAST. Generally wills are processed and executed within two short weeks from the time the person brings a will forward, asks the court to admit as muniment of title, and for the judge to sign the order. Filing an adverse action in the relevant court before the probate hearing date is the best way to stop the Muniment of Title. Otherwise, the next step is to appeal the judge’s order to the appropriate court of appeals, which is not easy since the standard used to overturn a judge’s decision is clear abuse of discretion.