Texas probate law provides two different options for settling an estate, dependent administration and independent administration. Determining which option is best for an estate depends on several factors, including the size of the estate and the complexity of distributing the estate’s assets.
An independent administration means that the executor of the estate has independence and power to make decisions and therefore does not need to consult a probate judge during the process of settling the estate. In order for an estate to be administered independently, either the will must specify the independent administration of the estate, or the beneficiaries must all agree to an independent administration of the estate.
By contrast, a dependent administration requires supervision in probate court. The executor of a dependent administration must seek approval throughout the process of settling the estate and must frequently check in with the probate judge. If a person dies intestate, without a valid will, the estate must be dependently administered unless the heirs unanimously agree otherwise.
Advantages and Disadvantages
The independent administration of the will is easier for the executor in many ways since the court does not intervene throughout the process, and the administration is usually much faster. Executors are able to sell property and settle claims against the estate without court approval. Often a decedent prefers independent administration because court oversight is viewed as “micromanaging,” which may bog down the process unnecessarily. Without oversight, however, the executor’s responsibility vastly increases. Since most executors are not professionals at the job, working closely with a probate attorney is advisable to avoid expensive blunders or even a breach of fiduciary duty.
Dependent administration requires input from probate court, which can be a slow process, one which creates additional work for the executor or administrator. The option for dependent administration is an important one, though, despite its cumbersome requirements. Especially when no will is in place to dictate the decedent’s preferences, the oversight of probate court may help prevent further litigation about the distribution of assets. If the estate carries a great deal of debt, dependent administration helps ensure that creditors are paid appropriately. Providing the documentation and receipts required to prove and to pay those claims, while time-consuming, does warrant the validity of the claims and confirms their payment. If beneficiaries dispute the validity of the will and probate mediation fails, dependent administration provides continuing oversight. The increased level of scrutiny and documentation help to protect the estate from unsubstantiated claims and disputes. In cases with large estates and/or beneficiaries in dispute, statutory requirements give a probate court the power to intervene and require dependent administration of an estate even if the decedent and beneficiaries have chosen independent administration.
Working with an experienced probate attorney is a wise decision for anything from estate planning to administering an estate. Whether the estate is administered dependently or independently, insight and knowledge from an attorney will help ensure that the decedent’s wishes are followed and that family members have greater peace of mind throughout an emotionally challenging time.
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