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Individuals often ask Houston estate planning attorneys about some of the worst mistakes that can occur during—or after—the estate planning process. One of these fatal errors is when estate plans are not updated as the person’s situation in life changes. An estate plan—detailing who the person would like to receive their assets after their death—is based on the individual’s relationships at the time the estate plan is drafted. However, throughout the years, relationships and situations change that might precipitate the need to change the plan. Because it can be confusing to know if an estate plan needs updating, below are common questions and answers about this topic.

What Are Some Common Life Changes that May Alter an Estate Plan?

Common examples of life changes that may impact an estate plan include divorce or change in relationship status, the birth of a child, or the death of a loved one. In the case of divorce, there is often a need to change estate plan documents after the divorce is finalized. In many cases, spouses are named as beneficiaries in wills, life insurance, and retirement plans. However, if the beneficiary listed is not changed by an attorney, the ex-spouse will likely receive the listed policy or asset if the person dies.

McCulloch & Miller, PLLC is thrilled to officially announce that we are a part of the UpCity community of top B2B service providers!

At McCulloch & Miller, we help guide small business owners and investors through planning strategies such as asset protection, tax consequences, and viable retirement planning. Every investor is different, and no one plan is the same. That’s why we make sure to assist our clients in knowing all of their options to better protect their values, goals, and legacy, in the way that they feel is best.

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Information in this article is current as of the date of publication. The policies, regulations, and laws within are subject to change with the IRS, state, or federal legislature.

There’s no denying it: It appears that cryptocurrency is here to stay.

Once confined to hidden corners of the internet, cryptocurrency transactions are now accessible to almost anyone through popular payment platforms like PayPal. Even top financial advisors are now counseling investors who can afford some additional risk in their portfolios to invest in crypto. Indeed, earlier this month, El Salvador became the first nation to recognize Bitcoin as legal tender.

The time after the loss of a loved one is emotional and stressful. Families are grieving the loss while also dealing with funeral arrangements and estate plans. While careful trust and estate planning can mitigate many common disputes that occur, there are still some pitfalls that cause families to fight over the deceased’s will. Below are some situations that sometimes lead to conflict with estate plans—along with ways to resolve the situations themselves.

Disagreements Among Siblings

While estate plans often provide clear and concise instructions for loved ones, this is not always the case. Parents with multiple children will sometimes include provisions in their will requiring the siblings to make decisions together—rather than detailing the wishes themselves. Although in some respects this may seem like a good idea—having children come together after the loss of a parent—these provisions often lead to discontent and more arguments. Children will fight about the aspects of the will: either about what assets they would like to receive or disagree what they are each entitled to.

We want to believe that, should we ever become incapacitated, the people we trust to protect us will behave honorably. A recent California court decision shows that, unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Houston residents young and old should heed the court’s warning in this case, which it described as a “textbook” example of a fiduciary relationship gone wrong. The case concerned an elderly woman and her son. The son was his mother’s durable power of attorney. In this role, he had broad rights to manage his mother’s property once she became incapacitated in her advanced age. The mother had a separate conservator of her person and estate.

In Texas, the role of a conservator (or guardian) of a person’s estate is comprehensive. Such a conservator has authority over their ward’s physical care, including the ability to make decisions about their education, residence, medical treatment, and even their daily activities. They also control their ward’s financial decisions, including both long-term and day-to-day management of money, personal property, and real estate. Clearly, conservatorships and guardianships can be ripe for fraud and abuse.

When family members think about what assets they may receive after a loved one has passed away, they often think about physical property or sentimental objects. However, another common inheritance is an individual retirement account or an IRA. An IRA allows an individual to save money for retirement with tax advantages. There are strict rules regarding an IRA and how a beneficiary can use it. Because of this, beneficiaries may be confused about how to manage their new IRA and the specificities surrounding the account. Below are common questions and explanations about IRAs and retirement planning.

What is an IRA?

An IRA (individual retirement account) is a financial account set up for individuals to save for retirement. IRAs are either tax-free or are set up on a tax-deferred basis. There are also different types of IRAs, including a traditional and Roth IRA. The major distinction between these two IRAs is the timing of the tax advantages. Traditional IRAs allow individuals to make contributions now and the earnings are tax-deferred until the money is withdrawn. On the other hand, with Roth IRAs, individuals make contributions with money they have already paid taxes on—therefore, the money will grow tax-free.

“Do I need a will if I don’t have children?” The answer to this frequently Googled question might surprise you.

Indeed, married couples who do not have any children often think that there is no good reason to have a will in place. They mistakenly assume that a will is not necessary since there is no need to determine how any assets would be divided among children. Instead, these couples rest easy under the mistaken assumption that their property will always go to their spouse in the event of their death.

In reality, Houston couples who do not have children should still have a will in place.

People are often confused about whether an estate tax—also known as an inheritance tax—will apply to their property after their passing. While the federal regulations surrounding the estate tax often change, Houston estate planning attorneys are knowledgeable in calculating the value of the asset, along with the taxes the deceased’s family will have to pay. Having this knowledge ahead of time will prepare the family financially and emotionally for when the person passes. Below are common estate tax questions and the answers to these problems.

What is An Estate Tax?

An estate tax is a tax levied on the estate of a recently deceased person before the money passes onto their heirs. However, estate taxes are only applicable to estates that fall above a certain monetary threshold. Some states have estate taxes too; however, Texas is not one of those states. Therefore, Texans will only have to worry about the federal estate tax on their properties. The federal estate tax applies for estates worth more than $11.7 million. For married couples, the rate is doubled—meaning, a married couple’s estate must be more than $23.4 million to have to pay the estate tax.

Unlike many other states which impose an estate tax at the time of a person’s death, Texas does not have such a tax. Therefore, when people move to Texas from another state many hope to eliminate the state-level inheritance tax from the prior state. To do so, Texans must ensure they are domiciled in Texas. Below are common questions and answers to what a domicile is, along with how to make sure a person is domiciled in Texas.

What Is Domicile?

A domicile is a place where a person has the intent of making their permanent home. A person’s domicile is very similar to their residence; however, while a person can have multiple residences, they can only have one domicile. For example, if a person spends part of the year in Texas and another part in New York, they may have residency in both places—but only one can be their domicile.

How Can Someone Show Where They are Domiciled?

Because a person can only be domiciled in one state, there are actions they can take to show they are domiciled in Texas. For instance, they can file a declaration of domicile form which supports their claim of being domiciled in Texas. Besides filling out this form, the individual must provide two acceptable documents to support their claim of domicile. These documents can include a current deed, mortgage or rental lease agreement in Texas, a utility bill with a Texas address, a Texas high school or college transcript, a pay stub from a Texas company, or a W-2 from an employer—amongst other acceptable documents.

Individuals can take other actions beyond a declaration to support their claim for domicile in Texas. This includes registering to vote in Texas, filing personal tax returns from their Texas address, redrafting wills to state the person is a resident of Texas and obtaining a Texas driver’s license.

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There is often a lot of confusion about Social Security benefits, particularly obtaining benefits based on a family member’s work history. While it may be complicated, Texans are able to obtain Social Security benefits from their ex-spouses. Every case is different, but there are general requirements a person must meet in order to qualify for their ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits. Below are explanations that can help a Texan begin the Social Security process, along with important qualifications to keep in mind.

What Are Social Security Benefits?

Social Security benefits are given to qualified retirees, along with their spouses, children, and survivors. Social Security benefits are based on a person’s lifetime earnings—therefore, people who earned more over their working years will receive more in benefits after their retirement. This is why spouses—or even ex-spouses—who earned less income may try to qualify for their partner’s benefits instead.

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