Case Studies

Disclaimer: The names and facts in these case studies have been changed to protect the identity of our clients. The outcome of these cases is not intended to be a guarantee or prediction of the outcome of any other case and should not be taken as such. Each case is unique and the outcome of any case depends on a variety of factors that cannot be predicted in advance. Past results are not indicative of future results.

Case Study: The Ambiguous Will

Ambiguous will

The Smith family approached our law firm after the passing of Mrs. Smith, a widow and a mother of three children, two daughters, and one son. She had been the matriarch of the family and had accumulated a considerable amount of assets over her lifetime, including a large family home, four rental properties, and several bank accounts with a total value of $2.5 million.

The first step in the probate process was to determine if Mrs. Smith had a valid will. She had, in fact, created a will with the help of an attorney several years prior to her passing. The will was submitted to the probate court for validation, and the court-appointed Mr. Smith, her husband, as the executor of her estate.

Next, we assisted one of Mrs. Smith’s daughters, Jane, in evaluating the inventory of assets and debts that had already been filed by the executor with the court. This included a three-story family home in a prime location, with an estimated value of $1.5 million, four rental properties with tenants and a combined value of $800,000, and multiple bank accounts with a total value of $200,000. We also helped Jane to understand the debts that Mrs. Smith had, which amounted to approximately $500,000.

Once the assets had been inventoried and the debts had been paid, the process of distributing the assets began. According to Mrs. Smith’s will, the family home and two of the rental properties were to be left to her son, while the other two rental properties and the bank accounts were to be divided among her two daughters. However, during the distribution process, Jane claimed that she had been left out of the will and deserved a larger portion of the estate. She argued that her mother had always promised her the family home, and that her brother was not taking care of the rental properties as he should.

As the probate attorney, we had to represent Jane and help her to understand the probate process and evaluate the inventory that had been filed by the executor. We were able to confirm that the will was valid and that the distribution of assets was in line with Mrs. Smith’s wishes. However, we also found that there were some ambiguities in the will document that were causing confusion and disputes among the inheritors.

To resolve the dispute, we suggested the family enter into a family settlement agreement. We were able to negotiate a settlement with Jane, which satisfied her concerns and ensured that the assets were distributed according to Mrs. Smith’s wishes. In this case, Jane received a lump sum of $250,000 from the bank accounts, and also agreed to drop her claim on the family home and the rental properties.

In the end, the probate process for the Smith estate was completed successfully and all assets were distributed according to Mrs. Smith’s wishes. This case highlights the importance of having a valid and clear will in place, and the potential for disputes that can arise during the probate process, even among family members. It also shows how a probate attorney can help to navigate these disputes by providing legal guidance, evaluating the inventory, and finding a solution that satisfies all parties involved.

Case Study: Selling a House After the Death of a Co-Owner

Case Study: Selling a House After the Death of a Co-Owner

As attorneys, we understand that the death of a co-owner can bring on a multitude of challenges when it comes to selling a shared property. One such challenge is the need for cooperation from all co-owners, including any estranged heirs of the deceased co-owner. This was the case for one of our clients, Mrs. Smith, who was trying to sell a house that she co-owned with her late husband, Mr. Doe.

Mrs. Smith had refinanced the house with her husband prior to his passing in 2015 to pay for their daughter’s car, school, and kids’ phones, as well as Mr. Doe’s cancer treatments. After his death, she decided to sell the house, but was faced with the challenge of obtaining cooperation from Mr. Doe’s estranged children in order to do so.

Upon consultation with our firm, we advised Mrs. Smith that the best course of action would be to go through a probate process in order to transfer the property into her name. However, we also made her aware of the potential for an alternative route, as some title companies may be willing to work with the unique circumstances of the case and allow for the sale of the property without the cooperation of all co-owners.

Mrs. Smith decided to reach out to Mr. Doe’s child, Jane, and explain the situation to her. She was honest and straightforward about the need for cooperation in order to sell the house, and the potential consequences of not cooperating, including the probate process. Jane was willing to cooperate and provided the contact information for her siblings. With the cooperation of all the children, Mrs. Smith was able to sell the house without going through a probate process.

This case serves as a reminder that the death of a co-owner can bring on unique challenges in the sale of a shared property. However, with the guidance of experienced attorneys and the cooperation of all parties involved, a favorable outcome can still be achieved. If you find yourself in a similar situation, do not hesitate to reach out to our firm for legal advice and representation.

Case Study: The Surviving Spouse, Step Children, & Separate Real Property

Case Study: The Surviving Spouse, Step Children, & Separate Real Property

As probate attorneys, we were approached by Jane, the common-law wife of John Doe, who had recently passed away without leaving a will. John owned a ranch in Travis County, Texas, which he had purchased before his relationship with Jane, as well as a bank account and a mobile home on the property.

Upon reviewing the case, we discovered that because John had not left a will, the distribution of his assets would be determined by state laws. John’s separate property, including the ranch and bank account, would pass to his children. However, we were able to inform Jane that she had a life estate on the property and could continue to live there.

We also informed Jane that the mobile home, which they had purchased together, would be considered as a joint property and she would have a half interest in it. Additionally, we explained that the bank account, which John had named her as POD, would also pass to her.

The children of John were filing for heirship, and we advised Jane that if she did not contest it, everything would go to them. However, Jane decided to negotiate and enter into a family settlement agreement to ensure that everything was distributed fairly. She and the other heirs agreed to this.

We also pulled the probate records for the estate of John’s father and informed Jane that it was in the process of being settled and that the children of John would be getting about $50,000 from that estate. This was important as it showed that they had enough funds at the time to be able to agree to Jane taking more of her deceased husband’s estate. Without those funds and knowledge of them, Jane would not have been in a position to negotiate the terms of her family settlement agreement in a way that was in her favor.

As her attorneys, we provided Jane with guidance on her rights and options, and assisted her in making an informed decision. We also helped her navigate the legal process and ensure that her rights and interests were protected.

This case highlights the importance of having a will in place to ensure that assets are distributed according to one’s wishes. It also demonstrates the complexity of probate cases where there is no will, and the critical role that a probate attorney can play in ensuring that the rights and interests of the surviving spouse are protected.

Case Study: The Small Estate, Where A Small Estate Affidavit Will Not Work

When a loved one passes away, it can be a difficult and overwhelming time for those left behind. One of the many tasks that need to be taken care of is transferring assets from the deceased’s estate. This can be a complicated process, especially when the deceased passed away without a will. This can be cumbersome even for small estates in some cases, as described in this case study.

This case study is for John Doe, a client who recently lost his wife, Jane Doe. John contacted our office seeking assistance in transferring assets from his wife’s estate. Unfortunately, Jane passed away without a will, leaving her assets intestate. John and his adult step-child are the sole beneficiaries of his wife’s estate. They are on good terms, but John is not the biological parent of the child and did not raise the child as his own. John is looking to transfer various assets, including bank accounts, a $20,000 check, and real estate, into his name.

One of the main issues that John is facing is that he is unable to access certain assets in his wife’s estate, including bank accounts and a $20,000 check that is payable to Jane, as they are still in her name. He also mentions that he needs to transfer the title of their house and property out of his wife’s name.

So, what can John do to transfer these assets? The attorney on the call suggests an intestate probate administration, which includes a judicial determination of heirship, to transfer the assets from Jane’s estate into John’s name. A judicial determination of heirship is a legal process in which a court declares who the heirs of an individual who has passed away without a will are under Texas law.

By going through the probate process and the determination of heirship, John will be able to transfer the assets from his wife’s estate into his name and the adult step-child’s name. This will allow him to access the bank accounts and cash the $20,000 check, as well as transfer the title of the house and property out of his wife’s name. We assisted John in navigating this process to ensure that all legal requirements were met and to help him accomplish his goals.

It’s important to note that a small estate affidavit was not available as an option in this scenario. The reason for this is that, as a step-child, the adult child inherited an interest in the house. The small estate affidavit cannot be used when there is real estate that passes to someone other than the spouse or minor children. This nuance required John to do the intestate probate and judicial heirship, to carry out the transfer of the real estate.

It is also important to note that this could have been avoided if Jane had a will in place. Having a will ensures that assets are transferred according to one’s wishes upon their passing. In the absence of a will, the legal process of intestacy must be followed to determine the rightful heirs of an estate.