Articles Posted in Estate Planning

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.

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.

“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.

There is no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic has sent shockwaves through the Houston economy and beyond. Indeed, only time will tell the impact of the virus on countless markets. With this in mind, the importance of estate planning early on has never been as clear.

3 Major Advantages for Investors with Estate Plans

As an investor, engaging in the estate planning process early on has several key advantages. First, estate planning early on allows investors to identify the major arch of their financial goals and to act accordingly. Second, estate planning early on affords investors ample opportunities to adjust their strategy to reflect market and legal changes. Finally, estate planning can help young investors cultivate wealth early on.

Planning your estate and the management of your assets after you pass away can be an uncomfortable and overwhelming process, however, it does not need to be as complicated as you may expect. Once an effective estate plan is in order, you and your family members can rest easy knowing that your wishes will be honored and that unnecessary conflict, expense, and taxation can be avoided. Taking certain steps now in planning your estate will prevent complications down the road.

Before setting up any trusts or even drafting a will, people interested in making an estate plan can gather most of the needed documents on their own, in order to streamline the process going forward. Important documents include property deeds, insurance contact information, vehicle titles, marriage and birth certificates, and financial account information. These documents should be stored in a safe and easy-to-find place for loved ones to access later.

Most Important Estate Planning Documents

Probate is the process by which the courts oversee the distribution of people’s assets after their death. For loved ones, probate can be an extremely difficult experience involving countless administrative requirements, and it is often rife with family conflict.

There are many steps that people can take, however, to help their loved ones avoid probate court disputes. Chief among these steps is careful estate planning. But other factors can also impact the probate court experience. For example, whether someone dies with or without a will, their decision to marry—or not to marry—can carry significant consequences in probate court.

In a decision earlier this summer, a Texas court considered a probate dispute in which a woman claimed rights to her recently deceased partner’s assets based on their alleged common-law marriage. The deceased man’s children—whom the couple did not share—claimed that they were not married. Because the man had died without a will, whether the couple had a common-law marriage was critical to how his assets would be distributed.

Estate planning has evolved greatly over the past century, and it continues to change with each passing year. For example, estate planning attorneys must regularly adapt client plans to changes in tax laws. Keeping up with changes to the legal field and their implications for estate planning is a task best left to the professionals.

A Texas case decided in June 2021 aptly illustrates the evolving field of estate planning. In the case, a company and individual both claimed a right to the deed to a 21.5-acre plot of land. In the end, the company prevailed because the court applied a law that is now no longer in effect.

At issue in the case was whether an attempted transfer of the land in 1995 was valid. The 1995 transfer did not involve either the individual or company involved in this case, but its ripple effects dramatically altered their rights down the line.

Once best known for her chart-topping hits, Britney Spears is now in the limelight for a much more somber reason.

For over a decade, Ms. Spears has been under a conservatorship following a decline in her mental health. That conservatorship has recently gained attention and notoriety as Ms. Spears and those around her allege that the arrangement has been abusive. The story of her conservatorship raises an alarming question: If a conservatorship could happen to a woman as powerful as Britney Spears, could it happen to you, too?

Fortunately, there are well-established ways to avoid a court-ordered conservatorship or guardianship in the event of incapacitation. Specifically, trusts and estates lawyers can help build a legal shield in the form of a revocable living trust.

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