Probating a will by muniment of title is unique to Texas law, rarely understood outside the state and frequently confused even by lawyers who practice within Texas. It is important to determine if a decedent’s estate can qualify for this procedure.

What is Muniment of Title?

Muniment of title streamlines the probate process by omitting appointment of an executor or administrator of the estate. The standard probation in Texas is more abbreviated than in most states because of independent administration in which only one hearing before the probate or county judge is required. The will is offered for probate and the court issues an order appointing the independent executor. Thereafter, notice to creditors and filing an inventory and obtaining an order approving it are the only other court actions required.

By using muniment of title, probate is even more abbreviated than independent administration because the only court order needed is that recognizing the will as the decedent’s true last will and testament. Thereafter, a certified copy of the will and a copy of the order can be used to transfer title of the decedent’s property to those listed in the will.

Muniment of Title available only with a valid will

Fundamental to use of muniment of title is the existence of a will. If the decedent died intestate (without having created a will) the estate will have to be administered through another probate process, such as heirship determination. A dependent administration may also be necessary.

Muniment of Title not available with outstanding debts

Probating a will by muniment of title is not available if a decedent has outstanding debts, unless the debts are secured by real estate.

Muniment of Title generally not practical with certain bank and brokerage accounts

Theoretically, if there were no debts, probating by muniment of title could act to transfer any property the decedent owned. Practically speaking, however, muniment of title is most efficient when the estate consists solely of real estate.

For instance, a decedent’s bank accounts, which do not have pay-on-death (POD) or right of survivorship (ROS) designations, or brokerage accounts, which do not have beneficiary designations, will go into the estate. In that case, it is usually not a viable option to implement the muniment of title procedure because the banks or brokerage houses, unfamiliar with the procedure unique to Texas, will most likely insist upon administration.

Can Tom T. probate John T’s estate by Muniment of Title?

Tom T.’s father, John T., died without a will. Tom had heard of a simple process for probate in Texas called muniment of title, which would be less expensive than regular probate. He wants to use that process to save money. Unfortunately, Tom’s father’s estate cannot be handled through muniment of title. Since John T. did not have a will, Tom must seek an order from the court determining whom the law recognizes as John T.’s heirs. The order of heirship determination can then be filed to pass property to the named heirs. In addition, if estate administration is necessary, an administrator will have to be appointed by the court.

Can Jane D. opt for Muniment of Title instead of independent administration?

Jane D.’s mother, Esther, died with a will leaving everything to Jane and naming Jane as independent executor. The only property in Esther’s estate is her home and a condo in Galveston. Esther died owing $25,000.00 to Home Sweet Home for her 24-hour home care, $5,000.00 to a contractor for building a ramp and widening doorways at her home (accommodations she was never able to utilize) and $3,500.00 in credit card bills from shopping on the Home Network. When Jane’s father died, the lawyer probated his will by muniment of title. Jane would like to use that procedure now.

Muniment of title is not available to Jane because her mother died with outstanding debt. Fortunately, since Esther named Jane as independent executor, Jane will be able to administer the estate with minimal intervention by the probate or county court.

Can Rosie R. utilize Muniment of Title?

Rosie R. is named executor on her mother’s will. Mazie R. owed no debts at the time of her death. She owned several rent houses and her own home. She also owns a ranch she had inherited from Rosie’s grandfather. Mazie’s bank accounts are POD accounts naming Rosie and her brother. The brokerage accounts and life insurance policies all have beneficiary designations naming Rosie and her brother.

Rosie is in luck. Her mother’s estate can be probated by muniment of title. After Rosie obtains an order from the court designating the will as valid, she can then file that order and a certified copy of the will to transfer all the real estate to her and her brother. The bank and brokerage accounts transfer vis-a-vis their death designations.

Can Molly G. and her brothers probate by Muniment of Title?

Molly M. and her three brothers are the beneficiaries of their father’s will. Martin M. died with a checking account and three CD accounts at a local bank. The accounts are single accounts with no one else named. He had a brokerage account with Edwards Jones with a beneficiary designation. His only other property is his home and the surrounding 200 acres. The children want to probate using muniment of title to save money.

The Edward Jones account transfers to Molly and her brother through the beneficiary designation. However, the bank, though local, is likely affiliated with an institution outside Texas that will insist upon an administration to transfer funds. Converting to an administration from muniment of title would be more, not less, expensive than initially opening an administration.

Sandra W. Reed is an attorney with Katten & Benson, an Elder Law firm, whose principal office is in Fort Worth, Texas. She lives and practices in Somervell County. If you have questions or concerns, please contact her by email at swreed2@yahoo.com or by phone at 254.797.0211.