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How to Solve the Homestead Conundrum | Probate Law | Farrow-Gillespie Heath Witter LLP

Resolutions to the Probate Homestead Conundrum

Under Texas law, a surviving spouse has the right to reside in the marital home until the surviving spouse either abandons the home or dies. But this so-called “probate homestead” right does not extinguish the ownership interests of remaindermen (co-owners, heirs, or beneficiaries) under the decedent’s will.  

The responsibilities of the homestead claimant (the surviving spouse) include paying ad valorem property taxes, costs of maintenance and repair, and interest on any existing encumbrances (e.g., a mortgage), avoiding “waste” and preserving the property, and funding any permanent improvements on the property. The homestead claimant is also entitled to all fruits, rents, and revenues derived from the property. The remaindermen must maintain insurance on the property and pay the principal on any existing encumbrances, such as mortgage principal. Texas law permits the surviving spouse to sell the homestead and use the proceeds to acquire a new homestead with the same rights and obligations as before.

These dynamics can strain a relationship, particularly between a stepparent and stepchildren. To lessen the strain, Texas law does not permit remaindermen to force a partition of a probate homestead. A common resolution to this conundrum is for one party to buy out the other party’s interest in the home, if both sides are willing.

Assuming the surviving spouse is the personal representative of the decedent’s estate, another option is for the surviving spouse to request authority from the court to purchase the home from the estate. Under Texas law, a personal representative of an estate may purchase estate property if the court determines that the sale is in the estate’s best interest.

If the home needs to be sold to satisfy debt associated with the property or the decedent’s estate, the personal representative can offer to purchase the property for an amount that would satisfy the debts or by assuming the debt associated with the property itself. Some factors weighing in favor of the purchase of the property by the personal representative include, but are not limited to, co-ownership of the property by the estate and the surviving spouse, as well as probate homestead rights. Both factors can greatly diminish the marketability of the property to a third-party buyer. The court is likely to find that a purchase of the property by the personal representative is in the estate’s best interest if the proposed purchase is the only viable option for settling the debts of the estate.

The lawyers in our firm have successfully assisted individuals in negotiating a buyout of either the homestead claimant or remainderman’s interests in the property; selling the probate homestead and using the proceeds to acquire a new homestead; and obtaining court authority for the purchase of estate property by a personal representative. Should you find yourself in a probate homestead conundrum, the attorneys at Farrow-Gillespie Heath Witter are here to help you navigate a resolution.


Jessica Dunne is a senior associate attorney at Farrow-Gillespie Heath Witter LLP. Jessica has substantial experience in probate, guardianship, and trust litigation, with a special interest in adoptions. Jessica graduated cum laude from Baylor Law School in 2011 where she was the recipient of the Presidential Scholarship.


Spencer Turner is an associate attorney at Farrow-Gillespie Heath Witter LLP. Since obtaining his license to practice law in 2016, Spencer has focused his legal efforts primarily in the trust and estates arena. He has been featured as a speaker on various aspects of the probate process at several seminars hosted by the National Business Institute. Spencer is a graduate from Baylor Law School.

Farrow-Gillespie Heath Witter LLP | Probate Law | Dallas, TX

Dallas County Probate FAQs

Q1:  Can I probate a Will without an attorney?

Unfortunately, no.  The Probate Courts do not allow individuals to appear on behalf of themselves.  For all purposes in Probate Court, you must hire a lawyer.

Q2:  I’ve been appointed as the Executor of a Will.  What am I supposed to do?

A:  The first things you should do are (1) find and secure the original Will; and (2) contact a probate attorney to assist you. Your probate attorney will explain exactly what will happen, and exactly what you need to do.

Q3:  I am the Executor, and I have the original Will.  Why does it need to be probated?  Why can’t I just give away the property according to the Will’s terms?

A: If any of the property to be distributed is held under a “title” — such as a house, vehicle, bank account, or real estate — you need authority from the probate court to transfer that title to the new owner.  By probating the Will, you as Executor obtain the authority (by receiving Letters Testamentary) to legally distribute the decedent’s property and to transfer ownership to the Will’s beneficiaries.

Q4:  What if I want to contest a Will? 

A:  Contact a probate attorney immediately.  If you want to contest a Will, you have a limited time in which to do so; and under the rules of Probate Court, you cannot proceed without the assistance of an attorney.

Q5:  What if the Will doesn’t provide for an independent representation?

A:  If the Will does not provide for an independent representation, or if the Will is otherwise not in order, the process is lengthier, more difficult, and significantly more expensive.  That is why it is important to have a properly drawn-up Will.

Q6:  What if there is no Will?

A:  If there is no Will, and the decedent owned property worth less than $50,000, it is possible to file a “Small Estate Affidavit” to transfer the property.  If the decedent owned property worth more than $50,000, the next of kin (or other close relative) must retain an attorney to have the Probate Court legally declare the names and shares of the decedent’s heirs.

Q7:  All the deceased person owned was his or her home.  Does the Will still need to be probated?

A:  Yes.  Otherwise, it is not possible to maintain the “chain of title” necessary to protect and transfer ownership in the house.  However, an abbreviated and less expensive form of probate is available in Texas when a decedent owns only a home and no other significant property.  The procedure is called a “Muniment of Title.”  Be sure to tell your probate attorney at the initial consultation that you believe the only property in the estate is the decedent’s house.

Q8:  I have looked everywhere for the original of the Will and can’t find it.  What should I do?

A:  It may be possible to probate a copy of the Will.  Also, it may be that the decedent had a safety deposit box to which you do not have access.  We can assist you in finding the box and obtaining a court order to gain access to it.