From wills, irrevocable and revocable trusts to durable powers of attorney. The varying strategies involved in estate planning can be overwhelming to navigate if you do not know where to start. When clients first begin their journey in estate planning they often assume they have no foundation in place but are surprised to learn that they do have a plan.
According to Texas’s laws of intestacy, a person’s estate will be distributed after death in the absence of legal planning. In these cases, the executed plan may not be their choice. That is where the importance of Estate Planning comes in. Take control of your estate and contact us for a properly drafted estate plan today.
Our Estate Planning Services
- Your Last Will and Testament
- Trusts: Revocable Living Trusts, Irrevocable Trusts, Testamentary Trusts, Special Needs Trusts, etc.
- Powers of Attorney
- Health Care Documents (or Advance Directives)
- Directive to Physician
- HIPAA forms
- Community Property Agreements
1. Your Last Will and Testament
Your last will and testament is just one part of a comprehensive estate plan. If a person dies without a Will they are said to have died “intestate” and state laws will determine how and to whom the person’s assets will be distributed. Some things you should know about wills:
- A will has no legal authority until after death. So, a will does not help manage a person’s affairs when they are incapacitated, whether by illness or injury.
- A will does not help an estate avoid probate. A will is the legal document submitted to the probate court, so it is basically an “admission ticket” to probate.
- A will is a good place to nominate the guardians (or back-up parents) of your minor children if they are orphaned. All parents of minor children should document their choice of guardians. If you leave this to chance, you could be setting up a family battle royal, and your children could end up with the wrong guardians.
2. Trusts: Revocable Living Trusts, Irrevocable Trusts, Testamentary Trusts, Special Needs Trusts, etc.
Trusts come in many “flavors,” they can be simple or complex, and serve a variety of legal, personal, investment or tax planning purposes. At the most basic level, a trust is a legal entity with at least three parties involved: the trust-maker, the trustee (trust manager), and the trust beneficiary. Oftentimes, all three parties are represented by one person or a married couple. In the case of a revocable living trust, for example, a person may create a trust (the trust-maker) and name themselves the current trustees (trust managers) who manage the trust assets for their own benefit (trust beneficiary).
Depending on the situation, there may be many advantages to establishing a trust, including avoiding probate court. In most cases, assets owned in a revocable living trust will pass to the trust beneficiaries (or heirs) immediately upon the death of the trust-maker(s) with no probate required. Certain trusts also may result in tax advantages both for the trust-maker and the beneficiary. Or they may be used to protect property from creditors, or simply to provide for someone else to manage and invest property for the trust-maker(s) and the named beneficiaries. If well drafted, another advantage of trusts is their continuing effectiveness even if the trust-maker dies or becomes incapacitated.
3. Powers of Attorney
A power of attorney is a legal document giving another person (the attorney-in-fact) the legal right (powers) to do certain things for you. What those powers are depends on the terms of the document. A power of attorney may be very broad or very limited and specific. All powers of attorney terminate upon the death of the maker and may terminate when the maker (principal) becomes incapacitated (unable to make or communicate decisions). When the intent is to designate a back-up decision-maker in the event of incapacity, then a durable power of attorney should be used. Durable Powers of Attorney should be frequently updated because banks and other financial institutions may hesitate to honor a power of attorney that is more than a year old.
4. Health Care Documents (or Advance Directives)
An advance directive is a document that specifies the type of medical and personal care you would want should you lose the ability to make and communicate your own decisions. Anyone over the age of 18 may execute an advance directive, and this document is legally binding in Texas. Your advance directive can specify who will make and communicate decisions for you, and it can set out the circumstances under which you would not like your life to be prolonged if, for example, you were in a coma with no reasonable chance of recovery.
A document that goes hand-in-hand with your advance directive is an authorization to your medical providers to allow specified individuals to access your medical information. Without this authorization, your doctor may refuse to communicate with your hand-picked decision-maker.
Our Estate Planning Process
Here is what you can expect when you trust us with your estate plan.
- Get in touch with us! Give us a call or fill out a contact form
- Schedule a free phone consultation
- From there, we schedule an estate planning strategy session, usually in person or via Zoom. This is an hour and a half session to get to know each other, go over your specific family needs and desires, and to create an estate plan that works for you.
- Once we’ve got a plan designed, one month later we will schedule a review that can be done over the phone or in-person to explain your documents in detail. This is your opportunity to make changes to your decisions, ask more questions and get a comprehensive understanding of your plan.
- When you know the plan is perfect, we schedule a date for you to come in and sign your document! Our staff is happy to serve as your witnesses, so there’s no need to worry about rounding up any other friends or family members.
- That’s it! Once signed, we scan your plan so that you have an electronic copy, answer any last questions you might have, and congratulate you on getting your estate plan in place. It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give to your family.
Frequently Asked Estate Planning Questions
- What Exactly Is Estate Planning In Texas?
- Any estate plan is designed to make sure that your assets pass to your family as quickly and as cost-effectively as possible. Without a proper estate plan, your assets could be tied up and spent towards the probate process for months, or even years.
- What Are The Basic Items Or Components In An Estate Plan?
- Last Will and Testament
- Revocable Living Trust
- Financial Power of Attorney
- Medical Power of Attorney
- Directive to Physicians
- HIPAA forms
- Who Needs A Trust In Texas?
- Typically, homeowners or people with six figures of investment assets could benefit from a trust. Trusts are primarily used for convenience, so the short answer is anyone who wishes to make things as simple as possible for their family could benefit from a revocable living trust.
- Is A Will Just As Good As A Trust? What Are Reasons To Choose One Or The Other?
- A will and a trust are two very different documents. A will is a document that transfers your assets to your loved ones, but only if you hire a probate attorney and go in front of a probate judge to have it “probated” after you’ve passed. A trust is a private document that does not have to go through probate, even if it holds assets like your house. Trusts are usually used as tools to make administering an estate more convenient for the family, for example, by avoiding needing to hire a probate attorney and go in front of a probate court. Trusts are also frequently used for asset protection from creditors, divorce protection, and as a means to reduce estate taxes owed when transferring assets to your loved ones.
- I Have My Late Mother’s Will. What Should I Do With It?
- If your loved one has passed away and you have their will, you need to call a probate attorney and they need to examine the will to see if you need to have the will probated. Most people don’t realize that will have to be admitted to the probate courts in order to be effective, and if you wait too long after someone passes away you may lose your right to have the will probated!
- How Do I Get A Will Probated In Texas?
- The first thing you should do is hire a probate attorney, Texas does not allow people to probate a will without an attorney to assist. Usually, we just need about 20 minutes of questions answered, as well as a copy of the death certificate and the original signed will. From there, it should take about two to three months before your probate attorney can get a hearing scheduled in front of your county’s probate court.
- Do I Need To Probate A Will if All The Estate Has Is A Home?
- Yes!! If you don’t have the will probated, then the deceased person’s name will still be on the deed records as the owner and if you ever go to sell or refinance the house you will not be able to do so until you have the will probated with the local probate court. Waiting usually makes things more complicated, and therefore more expensive.
- What Does Joint Ownership With Right Of Survivorship Or Payable On Death Mean In A Texas Probate?
- These terms are used to transfer ownership of assets outside of probate, so they “trump” the terms of a will. They are similar to designating a beneficiary on financial assets and allow family members to access funds immediately and quickly without having to wait until an executor has been appointed in probate.
- Is A Handwritten Will Legal And Enforceable In Texas?
- A handwritten will is called a holographic will, and it is legal even if there are no witnesses. These wills lead to some of the most complicated and difficult situations in probate courts and often result in years longs processes that cost tens of thousands of dollars to resolve. This simple reason is that most people who handwrite a will don’t know the legal terms that need to be used to make going through probate simple, and this often leads to major mistakes that require intense supervision by a probate judge.
- What Warning Signs Indicate It Is Time To File A Will Contest Probate Lawsuit?
- Of course, if the will was forged or written when the deceased didn’t have full mental capacity, a will contest is warranted. Other situations arise if the executor is not following the terms of the will, such as selling assets that were specifically left to individuals, spending estate funds for their own personal gain, selling assets below fair market value to close confidences, and failing to report a proper inventory or accounting. Perhaps the most common is when an executor is taking years to administer an estate and is just not doing the job they were tasked with.