Muniment of Title – What it is and when it may be used?
Recently as I was writing a paper about the forms of probate administration to present at a continuing legal education seminar, I asked myself “what is the form of probate that I get the most questions about?”. The answer was clear to me: I get the most questions about Muniment of Title. When this form comes up in a probate consultation or conversation, the first comment I hear is “I haven’t heard of that.” So, in this article, I am going to provide a general overview of what is Muniment of Title.
We’ll start with an example. Let’s say Joe died two years ago with a Will leaving his property to his wife, Jane. Joe made sure that Jane was the beneficiary on his retirement accounts and life insurance and that Jane was the joint tenant with right of survivorship on his bank accounts. Joe and Jane also owned house with a mortgage but there was no other debt because they used cash for purchases or paid off the credit cards each month. In this scenario, there may not be a need to administer Joe’s estate because of the beneficiary and right of survivorship designation and the lack of debt. Instead, Jane could ask a court to admit Joe’s Will to probate as Muniment of Title.
A muniment of title proceeding asks a court to prove the validity a will but it does not include an estate administration. As with Joe, it’s an option in situations where a person dies testate – with a will – and their estate owes no unpaid debt, except for debt secured by a lien on real estate or if for another reason, there is no need for the court to appoint an executor to administer the estate. According to Texas Estates Code §257.12(a), a court’s order admitting a will to probate as a muniment of title is enough legal authority for a person who has custody of estate property “to pay or transfer [that property] without administration the applicable asset without liability to a person described in the will as entitled to receive the asset” and it can be filed in the property records where real property is located to show the chain of title from the decedent to the beneficiary. If we go back to Joe, Jane can file a certified copy of an ordering admitting Joe’s Will to probate as a Muniment of Title to show that his interest in the house passed to her.
It’s important to remember that since a court does not grant letters testamentary or letters of administration in a Muniment of Title, if the decedent’s estate consists of assets, such as stocks or brokerage accounts, that cannot be transferred without an executor or administrator, a muniment of title should not be used. Instead the will should be filed for probate with a request for letters testamentary or letters of administration.