One of the drawbacks of probating an estate without a will is that the Court has to appoint an "Attorney for the Unknown Heirs." This lawyer is charged with determining all the heirs of the deceased.
Of course, the known heirs are listed in the Application for Letters of Administration that was filed by your attorney. The job of the Attorney for the Unknown Heirs is to make sure no one is left out of that list.
It is an unfortunate fact that sometimes there is a black sheep in the family or an illegitimate child that is left off the list. The Attorney for the Unknown Heirs is appointed by the Court to make sure that everyone entitled to property of the deceased is before the Court.
The bill for the Attorney for the Unknown Heirs is paid out of the funds of the estate. That means the beneficiaries end up paying. So it is in the best interests of the beneficiaries to provide the Attorney for the Unknown Heirs with as much information as possible so the Attorney can be satisfied that all heirs entitled to a portion of the deceased's estate are before the court.
The most common situation involves children of the deceased. The goal is to make sure the Attorney for the Unknown Heirs is satisfied that all children are listed. The Attorney for the Unknown Heirs will charge by the hour for the work done, including gathering the facts. If you can provide the documents needed before they are requested, you can save time and attorney fees.
Below is a list of common documents you should begin gathering. Some of these documents may not exist in your particular case. But if they do, give them to your attorney so your attorney can forward them to the Attorney for the Unknown Heirs as soon as the Court appoints one. By gathering the documents yourself, you should save on the final bill by the Attorney for the Unknown Heirs.
1. Death certificate of the deceased.
2. Obituary of the deceased.
3. Obituary of any spouse of the deceased.
4. Obituary of any deceased children of the deceased.
5. Birth certificate of each child of the deceased, whether that child is living or dead.
6. Texas Driver's License numbers for the deceased, and any living spouses, ex-spouses, children, parents, brothers or sisters.
7. Social Security numbers for the above.
8. Tax returns of the deceased.
9. Any decrees of divorce of the deceased.
10. If there is a family bible with birth information, copy the relevant pages.
11. List the names, addresses and phone numbers of neighbors, co-workers or close friends who can speak about the family history of the deceased.
12. Locate adoption papers if the deceased adopted any children.
13. Locate any "baby books" to show the names of the children.
I know this sounds like a lot of work. It is a lot of work. But if you do the leg work, you may realize significant savings on the attorney fees for the Attorney for the Unknown Heirs. And the sooner the Attorney has the needed information, the sooner a report can be made that all the heirs have been located and the probate can proceed.
Written by Donald Ray Burger, Attorney at Law
Last revised: May 15, 2002
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