Hi, my name is Matthew. I’m a consumer protection and probate attorney with the Houston Lawyer Referral Service.
I’d like to talk to you today about what to do if a loved one dies without a will – three things.
The first is a full determination of heirship through the probate court involving a hearing, with witnesses that you provide an attorney ad litem, who was appointed by the court, to investigate the family history, and to interview those two witnesses that you provide and you as the applicant. It’s a rather expensive procedure and not always necessary. The alternatives to that are the “statutory affidavit of heirship” and the “small estates affidavit,” both of which should be done by a licensed attorney.
The statutory affidavit of heirship is when you just have real property that needs to be transferred from the decedent, the person who’s died, to the beneficiaries. The statutory affidavit of heirship is a process through the Harris County Real Property Department. There’s no hearing, no court procedure, no court involvement. It becomes a public record once the procedure is done and transfer title has taken place. And that becomes notice to the world once that procedure has been accomplished by you and your attorney.
The small estates affidavit is when you have a decedent who just has, let’s say, a home, typically a homestead and/or $75,000 or less in bank accounts. The small estates affidavit is very effective. For this scenario, it does go through the courts. It does require a court filing fee, but there’s no hearing. And it’s a very simple, streamlined process, but it does need to be done by an attorney, especially in Harris County. We have four probate courts and they were very strict on their guidelines for any probate matters.
I hope this has answered your questions. If you do have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to email Houston Lawyer Referral Service at firstname.lastname@example.org and they will coordinate with a qualified Probate attorney to help you with any of these three procedures.
I wish you all the best. Thank you.