Some estates can be very complicated, if your deceased loved one left behind a lot of assets like homes, businesses, art, commercial real estate, etc., and a lot of debts. On the other hand, some estates can be very simple, if your deceased loved one did not have many assets or many debts. If you think you have a fairly simple estate, you may be able to use a muniment of title proceeding to administer your estate quickly.
What Is a Muniment of Title?
A probate of a will as a muniment of title is a probate process that is unique to Texas. It allows someone trying to administer a simpler estate with few assets and few debts not to go through a full probate. In other words, it is a simpler way to establish that a will is valid to pass specific property to the beneficiaries named in the will. When a will is probated as a muniment of title, no executor is appointed so no one has legal authority to act generally on behalf of the estate.
Why Should I Use a Muniment of Title?
Often, there are unexpected issues that arise in probating a will on behalf of a loved one. Sometimes, the will does not name an executor. Other times, the named executor is dead, unwilling to serve, disqualified, or is not independent. The muniment of title procedure can sidestep these problems.
Additionally, probate is not normally a fast process and a muniment of title proceeding can take less than 60 days from start to finish. A muniment of title makes a lot of sense if all you need to do is transfer title to some small property to beneficiaries, and the court does not need to manage the estate.
When Would I Use a Muniment Of Title?
A muniment of title should be considered when an estate has no unsecured debts, like credit cards and hospital bills, that need to be paid and the only assets that need to be transferred to the beneficiaries are real estate and bank accounts.
For example, if you only need to probate a will to clear or transfer title to your loved one's home or bank accounts, then a will can likely be admitted to probate as a muniment of title.
However, if the estate includes publicly traded stocks, bonds, and similar assets, a muniment of title is usually not advisable, because transfer of these types of assets often requires an executor who has authority to act on behalf of the estate under Letters Testamentary issued in a standard probate proceeding.
How Does the Muniment of Title Work?
As with a traditional probate of a will, an interested party, like an heir or beneficiary, must file an application in a court with jurisdiction over probate matters. In Arlington and Fort Worth, for example, the application should be filed in the Tarrant County Probate Court. Also like a traditional probate, the court must agree that there is a valid will, and it is admissible to probate.
However, with the muniment of title, the court must find that there are no unpaid debts of the estate, except for mortgages on real estate and that there is no need to proceed with a full administration of the estate.
The Application for Probate of a Will as a Muniment of Title must declare the following to the best of the applicant's knowledge:
- Each applicant's name and domicile
- The decedent's name, domicile, and, if known, age on their date of death
- The time, and place of the decedent's death
- Facts showing that the application should be heard in the court in which it is filed
- A statement generally describing the decedent's property and its probable value
- The date of the will
- The name and residence of any executor and witness named in the will, if any
- The names of any surviving children, born or adopted, of the decedent
- That the estate does not owe unpaid debts, other than those secured by mortgages on real estate
- If decedent divorced after the will was made and, if so, name of prior spouse and date of divorce
- If the state, a governmental agency, or a charitable organization is named in the will as a beneficiary
After the application is filed, the court will then have a hearing on the validity of the will. If the will is valid, the court may admit it as a muniment of title if the court is satisfied that decedent's estate does not owe unpaid debts, besides mortgages on real estate or if it finds for another reason that there is no need for administration of the estate. Once the will is admitted to probate as a muniment of title, title to the property listed in the will passes to the beneficiaries.
What Should My Lawyer Do For Me in a Muniment of Title?
First, your lawyer will review the will to see if it qualifies to be filed as a muniment of title. Then he or she will draft the application for you with information that you provide and file it with the court. Once the court has set a hearing date on your application, your lawyer will go with you to court to “prove up” the will by asking you questions under oath in front of the judge. After the hearing, your lawyer will draft the proposed order that the court will use to finalize the muniment of title. And finally, he or she will draft and file an affidavit with the court within 180 days of the judge signing the proposed order that details which terms of the will have been completed and which have not.
Muniment of title actions are not for the faint of heart. Because there are some very strict requirements, there are some easy mistakes to make and you should see a lawyer about a muniment of title case. Since this process is unique to Texas, you also should not use them when the decedent owned assets in a state other than Texas. You may have to file a second action in the state where the property in question is located, which defeats the purpose of a muniment of title action.
If you have recently lost a loved one, you might consider the use of muniment of title to probate the will. If so, you should probably consult with an experienced Texas probate lawyer.
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