Articles Posted in Family

Estate planning in Texas can be a stressful process, no matter the circumstances surrounding it. When there is possible familial conflict, however, estate planning and probate can become even more tenuous for everyone involved. To avoid family feuds, we at McCulloch & Miller recommend a few strategies that can help steer your loved ones clear of frustrating fights and emotionally charged conversations.

Plan Ahead

The biggest piece of advice we can give you in order to keep everything (and everyone) at peace is to plan ahead. By drafting your estate plans early and by making sure everything is set in stone as soon as possible, your family can grow accustomed to the preferences you articulate in those documents. Unfortunately, the alternative is that loved ones will be caught by surprise, which rarely goes over well.

Set a Family Meeting

Once you have finalized your estate planning documents, set a meeting with your family so that everyone can understand how you have organized your assets. Make sure your loved ones feel included by asking them if they have questions or if they need any additional information. By communicating clearly throughout the process, you can make sure to do everything in your power to help your family avoid a high-stress situation down the road.

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When parents begin their estate planning processes, they have many variables to consider, and it is always difficult to make decisions about which assets should go where. One variable that many of our clients want to think through is the possible addition of stepchildren to a will or estate plan. On today’s blog, we cover whether or not stepchildren are entitled to inherit the money and property that their stepparents leave behind.

In short, stepchildren only inherit a stepparent’s assets when those stepchildren are explicitly included in the stepparent’s will. Even if the stepparent lived with and cared for the stepchildren just as they would their own children, under the law, these stepchildren do not have automatic access to their stepparents’ assets. The decedent’s estate documents must lay out exactly which stepchildren inherit, as well as how much they are to inherit.

Similarly, if you have biological children that live elsewhere, those children might have automatic rights when you die, whether or not they are actively and currently involved in your life. For example, if you die without a will, the probate court could easily decide to distribute your assets to sons and daughters from which you are estranged. In the legal world of estate planning, it does not matter how close or distant you are from your biological children; they might have rights to your assets unless you stipulate otherwise in your will.

For parents that have adopted children, it is important to understand how the law understands adopted children to be part of their families. In the estate planning process, our clients that have adopted children often want to make sure that their kids are well taken care of after their passing. Today, we cover whether adopted children are able to inherit once their parents die.

Under the law in Texas (specifically, Texas Estates Code Section 201.054), adopted children are considered the children of their adopted parents. Therefore, even if a child is adopted, that child inherits as if he or she were the biological child of his or her parents. This comports with adoption laws nationwide, which generally consider an adoptive child to have the exact same rights and privileges as a biological child.

Importantly, this section applies to children adopted through formal procedures; thus, if you have “informally” adopted a child, or if you consider a child to be like your adopted child, this section will not apply to you. The State of Texas must recognize the familial relationship in order for this provision to treat you and your adopted children as though you are biologically related. Understanding this is crucial to avoid one of the more common estate planning mistake among adoptive families.

Having discussions with a romantic partner about a prenuptial agreement can be tough. The reality is, however, that marrying someone is, in part, a financial commitment. When talking through a possible prenup with your future spouse, it can be helpful to understand how the agreement might affect each person’s estate plan going forward. Even if you and your partner ultimately decide not to get a prenup, talking through the pros and cons can help you start to have important financial conversations that can prepare you for your future together.

What is a Prenup?

A prenup is shorthand for a prenuptial agreement. By definition, a prenup is a document that you sign with your future spouse that lays out how you would like your property to be distributed in the event of a divorce or death. Absent a prenup, a court could divide your and your spouse’s assets in a way that is not in line with either of your preferences. The court could have you pay alimony in the form of a regular payment or a lump sum, or it could determine that you are on the hook for debt that your spouse has taken on during your marriage.

Divorces can be messy and complicated, and signing a prenup before marriage allows you to bypass some of that complication in case of the worst. Importantly, you cannot prenup around child custody or child support, so those factors will always be left somewhat up to chance in the event of a divorce.

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Unfortunately, when a loved one leaves behind friends and family members, he or she also leaves behind the possibility that there will be disagreements about how to distribute his or her assets. Even when a decedent writes a will or other detailed estate plan, beneficiaries can often disagree about how to interpret the documents or how the money and property should be dispersed. On today’s blog, we talk about ways of resolving estate disputes, which tend to come up when beneficiaries don’t all agree about how to effectuate a loved one’s will.

If you and other possible beneficiaries of a will have found yourselves disagreeing about how to interpret a loved one’s will, the first thing you can do is try to resolve the dispute outside of court. You could, for example, hire a mediator that could hold sessions for the group and try to get everyone to a place where they agree. Sometimes, individuals that wish to contest the contents or interpretation of a will can be persuaded not to pursue their claims simply through the mediation process.

If the group is still at an impasse, any individual that wants to challenge a will can file a lawsuit with the probate court. Any challenges must be filed within two years of the will being admitted to the probate court. Importantly, only those with something called “standing” are legally able to challenge a will; essentially, this means that a party contesting a will must be either the decedent’s spouse, family member, or creditor. Those without any real grounds to file the lawsuit will generally not be heard by the probate court.

In the past, we have written in-depth on our blog about how to spot financial abuse among elderly people you love. The second question many clients ask, which is perhaps an even more important question, is what to do in the face of possible financial elder abuse. There is no “one size fits all” solution, but there are crucial steps you can take to make sure the older people in your life are well protected.

How We Can Help in the Face of Financial Elder Abuse

At McCulloch & Miller, PLLC, one of our specialties is long-term care planning. We meet with our clients, learn about their lives, and help them figure out how to choose and pay for their long-term care options. We take pride in making sure all the options that our clients are thinking through are safe and trustworthy so that our clients can decrease the odds they will experience financial abuse from a nursing home, residential facility, or caretaking team. If you think you or a loved one has already experienced financial abuse at a residential facility, we can help you think through how to switch facilities so that you feel safer and at peace with where you live. We can also talk you through the necessary steps for bringing an action against anyone that has taken advantage of you or a loved one so that you can get compensated for the harm you have suffered.

If you are expecting a new addition to your family, congratulations! This can be an exciting and exhilarating time with plenty of changes, but the changes do not stop at diapers. Secure your child’s future by updating your estate plans across the board. In addition to updating your beneficiaries, you will want to do the difficult work of establishing a guardian for your child. You may also want to consider establishing a trust to begin building wealth for your family and planning for their future alongside yours.

In any event, do not stress. In this exciting time, know that estate planning attorneys are there to help you make all the necessary plans for you, your children, and your family. An experienced attorney will leave no stone unturned in ensuring you have prepared for the care and financial wellness of your children, no matter your individual circumstances.

Updating Your Plans for Baby

The first step in preparing your financial future to include your child is addressing your will. Your will is crucial not only because it designates the heirs to your property and assets, which now will include more than just your partner and family, but also because it designates a guardian for your child in the unfortunate event that something happens to you and your partner.

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Like with music, pop culture, and politics, members of different generations tend to approach issues differently than others. Generations also approach retirement differently—both in how they are planning for retirement, along with their expectations about retiring. Some generations are more optimistic about retiring at an earlier age, while simultaneously changing their retirement strategy based on economic and technical changes—like incorporating cryptocurrency into their investments. With over 60 million people currently planning for retirement as active 401(k) participants, it is important to discuss these differing strategies, how people feel about retirement planning, and how estate planning attorneys can provide additional advice to make people feel more secure.

Expectations About Retirement Age

Studies have shown a difference in opinion on when individuals in each generation expect they will be able to retire. Younger generations, like Gen Z, expect to retire at an earlier age than other generations. For example, the median age that Gen Z believes they will stop working at is 57 years old; however, Generation X—individuals between the ages of 42 and 57—do not expect to retire until they are 64 years old.
Despite this information, only 57 percent of all Gen Z members believe they will retire at some point—indicating a significant difference in opinion among people in this generation—whereas 62 percent of millennials believe they will retire at some point.

Retirement Plans Differing by Generation

While most individuals in all generations are planning for retirement, they are doing so in different ways. For example, Generation X and baby boomers plan to rely upon Social Security benefits, 401(k) and pension plans to support themselves. While members of younger generations do not assume that Social Security and Medicare will be available for them by the time they expect to retire, as many officials predict that Social Security benefits will be depleted by 2030. Because of this, millennials and Gen Z plan to rely more on their 401(k) savings as their major source of retirement income. However, younger generations also plan on relying on financial technology within their investment portfolio, like cryptocurrency. Many members of this generation believe that cryptocurrency will give them the highest return on investment, despite its current lack of regulation and potential volatility.

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For many parents, it can be difficult to think about how their children will have to take care of them in their old age—and how they will have to pick up the pieces once they pass away. Because of this, many parents will avoid including their children in the estate planning process or, worse, not take any estate planning measures at all. While the initial goal may have been to avoid burdening their children, not creating an estate plan can have the opposite effect. Below are some tips and information that individuals should take now to prevent uncomfortable situations—often that their children will have to handle—in the future.

Create a Will

One of the most important estate planning steps is to create a will. Having a will in place dictates how a person’s assets are to be distributed. If a person does not have a will and they pass away, their assets will go to probate court where a judge will decide who will receive the items in the estate. This process can take months or years and is often difficult for loved ones to handle and manage during an already emotionally fraught time. Similarly, having a will in place reduces the stress that loved ones face of knowing whether the assets are going to the person the deceased would have wanted.

Implementing a Power of Attorney

Talking with loved ones about who will serve as a power of attorney can reduce future family infighting and worries when a loved one becomes ill or incapacitated. A healthcare proxy makes decisions on another person’s behalf when they become physically or mentally incapacitated and thus cannot make these choices for themselves. Many parents do not want their children to have to make these decisions; however, many children would rather be in charge of their parent’s medical decisions than see an uninterested party make them—or worse, have no one who is able to make these decisions at all.

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When people think about talking with their aging parents about the future, they are often stressed and nervous. How will the conversation go, how will their parents react, and what should they say? Because of this, children often put off this conversation, delaying it for as long as possible. However, delaying too long can be dangerous—as parents get older, it may be more difficult for them to make decisions about their future, which could lead to even more hurdles. Below are a few questions children should ask their aging parents about estate planning, and why there is such a need to do so as soon as possible.

Questions to Ask Your Aging Parents:

What Are Your Future Plans for Your Money?

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