If you’re going through probate in Texas, you may have heard the phrase “muniment of title.”
This process is often used to administer small estates quickly.
If you’ve recently suffered the loss of a loved one, then this process may be worth looking into when it comes to their will.
Here are the top things you must know about the muniment of title.
1. What is the muniment of title?
Muniment of title is a probate mechanism that you can use in certain circumstances.
Here are the requirements to probate a will through muniment of title.
The Court must agree that there is a valid will that is admissible to probate
The Court must find that there are no unpaid debts of the estate, except mortgages or other debt secured by a lien on the real estate
The Court must rule that there is no need to proceed with a full administration of the estate
Note: Muniment of title is a legal concept that was previously unique to Texas.
However, there are now some other states like Mississippi and Tennessee that are also adding it to their probate laws.
In this blog, we’ll focus on the state of Texas because this is where the muniment of title is primarily used.
However, if you live in select other states, it may be possible to use this mechanism.
We recommend you check your state’s specific laws and discuss your circumstances with a lawyer.
While it’s unlikely you’ll be able to use it unless you’re in a select few states, it never hurts to ask!
2. What is probate?
To truly understand what the muniment of title is, you must first understand probate.
Probate is the process of determining ownership of property owned by a person who died.
The simplest method of this process is submitting a will signed by the person who died (decedent).
Then, the Court must accept this will as valid.
If no will exists, then the process becomes more complicated.
Probate is done for several reasons.
Here are a couple of them:
It helps to prove ownership for the transfer of title to real estate or bank accounts or other property that is identifiable by an account or deed
It allows you to eliminate creditors or set aside assets for protected owners (protected owners include surviving spouses and minor children)
3. What is required in a muniment of title proceeding?
To go through muniment of title, follow these steps:
File the application
Obtain the required service of citation
Appear at a hearing for the judge to sign an order admitting the will to probate as a muniment of title
The order will serve as authorization to third parties to transfer assets as set out in the will.
There will be no further action required for the probate.
That said, certified copies of the will and order admitting it to probate as a muniment of title may need to be filed in counties other than where the probate action was filed to reflect the passage of title to real estate in those other counties.
Beyond this, nothing more is required from a legal standpoint.
4. Why use muniment of title?
Here are the top three reasons to use muniment of title to probate a will in Texas:
Executor issues: The will may not have named an executor, or the named executor may be dead, unwilling to serve, disqualified, or not made independent.
In these cases, the muniment of title procedure can sidestep these problems.
Speed: Probate can take a long time.
To speed up the process, you can use muniment of title.
This is an ancillary probate procedure that can take less than 20 days from start to finish.
Simple estate: The estate in question may not require a long process.
For example, if all the lawyer needs to do is transfer title of the real and reasonable property to the beneficiaries entitled to receive the assets and the court does not need to manage the estate, then a muniment of the title action will expedite matters for all concerned (the court, the estate’s attorney, and the beneficiaries).
5. How does a muniment of title action go through probate court?
Probating a will as a muniment of title is done through the following process.
First, you engage a Texas probate attorney in filing the following with a local probate court:
Your loved one’s will
An application to Probate Will as a Muniment of Title
An affidavit from named beneficiaries confirming that they are aware of and agree to this method of handling the estate
A certified copy of the decedent’s death certificate
Next, when these documents are filed, the sheriff will post a notice to the courthouse.
This notice should state that your loved ones’ will is being probated.
Once 10 days have passed, your attorney can schedule a hearing in the probate court.
Then, at the hearing, you’ll have to sign at least two documents prepared by your probate attorneys.
These documents are…
Proof of Death and Other Facts: This provides information about the person’s death, place of residence, and will
Proposed Order Admitting to Probate as a Muniment of Title
During the hearing, you must also sign an oath in which you vow (to the best of your knowledge) that the decedent owed no debts other than a mortgage on their homestead.
Following the hearing, the process of distributing assets is much less complicated than it would have been with traditional estate administration.
Depending on the situation, you may have to file a compliance affidavit confirming that all distributions were made in accordance with the will within 180 days of the hearing.
This step is only necessary if all named beneficiaries did not submit compliance affidavits.
6. When is muniment of title not recommended?
Muniment of title is often an efficient and cost-effective way of settling a small and uncomplicated estate.
However, it’s not recommended in all cases.
Here’s when you may not want to use it.
The estate contains significant assets
The beneficiaries are hostile to one another
Some of the assets are held out of state
The estate has debts that must be handled
7. Can I handle a muniment of title case on my own?
No, there are strict statutory procedural requirements related to muniment of title cases.
As a result, you must have a lawyer handle muniment of title to probate a will case.
This is not a DIY project.
In fact, most probate courts will not permit an individual who is not licensed as an attorney to represent anyone else.
Also, you should note that muniment of title cases are unique to Texas.
You should not use muniment of title when the decedent owned assets (i.e., real property, shares of stock, securities, investments, etc.) in a state other than Texas.
If you do, then 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.
8. How much will it cost to go through probate?
The cost of an attorney, in this case, will depend on your specific situation and who you hire.
Often, there will be attorney fees in addition to major expenses like court filing fees.
With that, the cost of muniment of title costs much less than another form of probate because of how simple it is.
When you go through full probate, there are numerous steps, filing and fees for publication in the newspaper, and additional expenses.
As such, the cost of full probate generally will cost somewhere around 3-7% of the estate’s value.
The cost of full probate can run may be higher if the estate is more complicated.
In comparison, the filing fee with the county clerk for a muniment of title is usually about $475.
The attorney’s fees for handling the proceeding generally range from about $750 to $1,000.
If the attorney must travel from the hearing, then this can add on additional fees.
However, because the muniment of title is much simple, shorter, and less stressful, it is often preferred to full probate to achieve the same outcome for your loved one’s estate.
Other costs that may exist include needing to file certified copies of probate documents in other countries where the deceased person owned real estate.
The cost of obtaining certified copies is usually between $30 to $50, and the cost of filing the copies in each county is around the same.
9. Is there a deadline to file a muniment of title application?
Yes, depending on the state.
For example, the Texas Estates Code requires that the muniment of title process is initiated within 4 years from the date of death.
So, unless the applicant can show that they were not at fault for filing late, then filing outside the 4-year deadline would exclude them from using the muniment of title.
This is because a letter testamentary cannot be issued after the 4th anniversary from the date of death, and the muniment of title process is the only way to probate a will after 4 years from the date of the decedent’s death.
If you have any questions regarding the muniment of title, you should reach out to a Texas probate lawyer in your area.
They can help you answer any questions about the will of your loved one and if muniment of title is the right next step.
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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.