Life Estate Inheritance Brings Complications

Dear Mr. Premack: My husband left a Will that said, “To my wife, I devise and bequeath a life estate in my home”. It gave all the rest of his estate to his three children from his first marriage. He named me as Executor of the estate. My questions: What do I have the right to do? Can I have a garage sale for income to help pay his debts? Who pays the insurance, taxes and upkeep on the house? In whose name will title to the home be held? I am over 65. I still get the 65 discount on the property taxes? Thank you. – MF

The first thing that you need to do is activate the Will by having your attorney present it to the court for probate. After notice and review, the court should approve it and should authorize letters testamentary for you as Executrix.

Part of “what you have the right to do” depends on you first obtaining letters testamentary as Executrix. Then, in order to comply with the requirements in his Will and with the requirements of Texas law, you must handle payment of his legitimate debts and taxes. There is a process to follow: the creditors must present their claims, which can be accepted as valid or rejected as invalid. If rejected, a creditor may file suit to allow the judge to review the claim and rule on its legitimacy.

When all the legitimate claims are received, they are classified by priority (the statute gives priority to funeral expenses, medical bills, family allowances and secured debts). If the available funds he left behind are inadequate to pay the claims, can you have a garage sale to raise money for his debts? The answer is “no” if his personal effects were given to 1) you as surviving spouse, 2) to his minor children, or 3) to any adult children who are unmarried and living at home. This is because the personal effects are then legally exempt from creditor’s claims. You can only sell them if the heirs all give you their permission.