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Many young people do not think much about estate planning. But having children makes estate planning an important consideration for any family. Young families with children should consider taking certain steps when going through Houston estate planning.

Basic Estate Planning Needs for Young Families

First, families should sit down with an attorney to write a will. Writing a will ensures that a parent decides who property and assets will go to in the event of the parent’s death. Writing a will is particularly important for parents because they need to name a guardian for their children. The guardian is the person who would care for the child or children if both parents were unable to care for their children. In the absence of a named guardian in a will, a court would generally choose a guardian for the children. Having a named guardian ensures that that person is appointed as guardian.

Houston families with adopted children have to keep certain concerns in mind while estate planning. If a child is not formally and legally adopted, that child generally will not receive the same treatment in the event of a parent’s death. Inheritance and property will not usually pass on to that child in the same way that they would to a biological child. Adoptions can take a long time to become final. Until an adoption has been finalized, the child is not considered a child in the same way that a biological child is for estate purposes.

For example, a stepchild who was raised by a stepparent may be considered the same as a natural child within the family, but if the stepchild was not legally adopted by the stepparent, the child will not be treated in the same way under Texas estate law. In the event of the stepparent’s death, Texas estate law would not treat that child the same as a biological child. This means that if the stepparent died without a will, generally, the stepchild would not inherit any of the stepparent’s assets. However, there are some circumstances under Texas law in which a child can inherit from a stepparent and where there was an agreement to adopt the child.

If a parent legally adopts a child, under the Texas Estates Code, that child will be treated in the same way as a natural child. In the event of a legal adoption, generally, the child’s biological parents’ parental rights will be terminated. In some cases, that child will lose their right to inherit by default as a child from their biological parents. However, in Texas, an adopted child normally can also inherit from the child’s natural parents.

Preferred Partnership Freeze

It is no secret that a well-put-together Houston estate plan can save younger generations an enormous amount of money. However, few are aware of the rare opportunity for estate tax savings caused by the economic conditions surrounding COVID-19. By taking advantage of a Preferred Partnership Freeze (PPF), high net worth individuals can avoid costly estate taxes and continue to take full economic advantage of their assets. Individuals will want to act quickly to seize this opportunity, as this is hopefully a once-in-a-generation opportunity that may not be around for long.

The recent economic shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic has decreased the value of many assets, including closely held businesses, investment portfolios, and real estate properties. A Preferred Partnership Freeze allows individuals to freeze the current valuation of such assets, and recognize certain benefits down the road as a result. For assets expected to appreciate, future interests can be placed into a trust avoiding estate taxes on the increase in value. For depreciable assets such as rental real estate, individuals can take advantage of estate tax deferral as well as a tax-free step-up in basis, and increased depreciation and amortization.

When was the last time you reviewed your estate plan? Most people have not reviewed their estate plan since they put it together with the help of their attorney. Although it is relatively common, taking a set-it-and-forget-it approach to estate planning is risky business. As time passes, life circumstances change, as does the law regarding estates. For these reasons, it is essential to review an estate plan every three to five years. Below are a handful of common mistakes that can easily be caught and corrected by reviewing all estate planning documents.

Updating Your Fiduciaries

Knowing who is named as the executor of a will or as the trustee of a trust is crucial to making sure that an estate plan is properly carried out. Each fiduciary plays a critical role in the administration of an estate. Over time, relationships often change. People drift apart and may even fall completely out of touch. People also grow old and pass away. Thus, it is crucial to check in with an estate plan every so often to make sure the named individuals are still up to the task. Even if the fiduciary is still willing and able, you may find on further inspection that there is a better person for the job.

There are many reasons people may want to avoid creating or revising their Houston estate plan as they age. Some may say they do not have the time or money to sit down with an attorney. Others may think that it is unnecessary. However, often, it boils down to a desire to avoid the uncomfortable conversations that must be had when it comes to engaging in the estate planning process. Most people do not want to think about death, let alone talk about it with their loved ones. With that in mind, it makes sense they would want to avoid discussing their estate plan. So how can one approach this conversation and gently persuade their loved one to create or update an old estate plan?

Tips to start the conversation about estate planning:

  • First, it is important to show understanding and empathy. As discussed above, these are conversations no one enjoys having. One should show an understanding of why their loved one may want to avoid the topic. One way to do that is by having patience. Try not to be too overbearing or demanding. It may take more than one conversation to convince a loved one to plan for the unavoidable sooner rather than later.

Benefits of Charitable Giving

When it comes to planning your Houston estate plan, one tool that should not be forgotten is charitable giving. As an estate-planning tool, charitable giving has two primary benefits. First and foremost, it provides an opportunity to give back and support the causes we care about. Secondly, charitable gifts reduce the taxable assets within an estate, potentially resulting in significant tax savings, particularly for substantial estates. A charitable trust allows Texans to achieve these two important estate-planning goals simultaneously.

A trust is an arrangement in which property is placed in the hands of a trustee to be managed and used for the benefit of a beneficiary. In the case of a charitable trust, the beneficiary is a charitable organization chosen by the grantor. Creating a charitable trust can have multiple tax benefits. For starters, a trust can be structured so that any donations made during the grantor’s lifetime can be deductible from their income tax. Furthermore, when the grantor dies, the assets within the trust are not included within the grantor’s estate. As a result, the tax burden on substantial estates can be reduced significantly through the creation of a charitable trust.

It can be difficult to face the mortality of a loved one. Unfortunately, when a loved one is diagnosed with a serious brain disease, family members do not have a choice. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS bring families face to face with the reality of a family member’s condition. This makes it important to take action to secure their legacy and clarify their wishes. Putting together a Houston estate plan can accomplish this.

A recent article in Forbes discussed some estate planning considerations for people diagnosed with life-threatening neurological conditions. Below is some information family members can use to help a loved one in making sure their estate plan is complete.

Encourage Them To Review And Update Their Estate Plan: After creating an estate plan, people often forget to update it as circumstances change. Then life happens, and people find that the plan they put in place no longer suits their current situation. It is important to encourage loved ones to review and update their estate planning documents. If they have not previously put together an estate plan, now is the time to do it. Doing so will help ensure that their wishes are respected with regard to future medical care, as well as the distribution of their property upon their passing.

Before getting married, it is important to consider how the wedding will impact a current Houston estate plan. Second marriages often present complicated estate planning issues. This is especially true for those who have children from a previous marriage whom they would like to inherit some or all of their assets. Absent the appropriate precautions, an individual could accidentally disinherit their children altogether. Similarly, individuals may need to take action in order to ensure that their assets are used to care for their future spouse. Whatever the particulars of an individual’s situation, it pays to be prepared with a comprehensive estate plan.

Studies show that many of those who have created comprehensive estate plans have not reviewed their estate plan in quite some time. Before marriage, it is crucial to review and update all estate planning documents to make sure they represent an individual’s current wishes. To begin, those who are soon to be re-married should have a discussion with their future spouse and make sure that both parties are on the same page. Next, go through each estate plan with an experienced estate planning attorney who can translate individual estate planning goals into an appropriate strategy. Common changes may include adding or removing beneficiaries and addressing recently acquired assets.

In addition to these common changes, there are a few other considerations that may need to be made:

Estate planning is the process of preparing and managing a person’s assets and documenting final wishes. Houston estate planning attorneys frequently assist individuals in creating these essential documents. Estate plans typically include wills, financial power of attorney designations, medical directives to physicians and family, medical power of attorney designations, and final wishes. Although many of these documents relate to a person’s wishes after they pass, individuals should also have a plan in place in the event that they become incapacitated.

“Incapacity can happen to anyone, at anytime.”

A person may become incapacitated after they suffer an injury or illness that leaves them unable to make decisions or communicate their wishes. When individuals do not have a comprehensive, binding plan in place, a Houston probate judge may appoint someone to take control of the incapacitated person’s decisions. This person may make personal and medical decisions on behalf of the incapacitated individual. These wishes may be contrary to an individual’s actual desires. Many people may believe that they do not need a plan in place because they own property or assets jointly with a loved one, however, there are many limitations on what the co-owner can do. Further, the co-owner may be subject to many undesirable situations, such as default judgments and civil lawsuits.

Estate planning and advanced directives are a critical step that Texans can take to ensure that their wishes are effectuated if they become incapacitated or pass away unexpectedly. Estate planning is essential for all individuals, despite their wealth or age. Although, in some cases, Texas law provides residents with tools to create these documents on their own, it is vital that individuals consult with a Houston estate planning attorney to make sure that their documents are valid.

In creating Houston advanced care documents, individuals should include both health-related and financial planning directives. The three most essential parts of a person’s health-related advance planning documents are a medical power of attorney designation, directive to physicians (living will), and out-of-hospital do-not-resuscitate (DNR) instructions. These documents will provide doctors, healthcare providers, and family members with guidance on how to proceed with a loved one’s care. They remain in effect unless an individual revokes or changes them.

Medical Power of Attorney (MPOA)

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