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Deciding who to appoint as a trustee or executor as part of your estate plan can be a tricky business. One obvious option for a trustee is a valued family member, someone that you can count on to act in accordance with your best interest. At McCulloch & Miller, we have years of experience advising clients on how to choose the right trustee or executor for them, helping them make a decision that works well for their individualized circumstances.

What is a Trustee or Executor?

A trustee is a person that you designate to oversee your trust; this person is in charge of making sure the trust’s assets are used according to your wishes. An executor, on the other hand, is a person appointed to carry out the terms of your will or estate plan. This person will sort out your finances and assets after you are gone.

What is the Cost of Appointing a Trustee or Executor?

When deciding who to appoint as a trustee or executor, you may have many options in front of you: in particular, you might need to choose whether to appoint a family member or a professional as the person to oversee your assets.

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In today’s blog, we offer estate planning tips and strategies for blended families in Houston, with the goal of ensuring that all members of the family are considered. For many of our clients in non-traditional families, there can be important questions about how to make sure nothing goes awry upon one individual’s death. There are important strategies to keep in mind, and ultimately, speaking with an estate planning attorney is the best thing you can to in this situation to make sure your needs are covered.

What is a Blended Family?

A blended family is one that consists of a couple and their children from previous relationships. If you and your spouse have both children and stepchildren, you might have different goals for what you will leave behind for each set of children, which can be difficult to navigate if you have been accustomed to more straightforward methods of estate planning in the past.

What Should Blended Families Keep in Mind During Estate Planning?

For those who die without a will in Texas, their assets will generally go to their spouse. For those who have children from a previous marriage, however, things can look different. If a decedent in a blended family owns property with his or her spouse, part of the property will be left to the surviving spouse, and the other half will go to the children from the decedent’s prior marriage.

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Do you want to create your will? Are you not quite sure where to begin? In Texas, writing a will and making sure it aligns with the legal requirements can be a tricky process. There are several procedural hurdles to overcome, and when your loved ones’ well-being is on the line, you want to make sure everything is done correctly. On today’s blog, we offer a step-by-step guide on how to create a will in Houston to ensure your assets are distributed according to your wishes.

Step 1: Start Early!

The best piece of advice we can offer in creating a will is to start drafting early. Life is full of the unexpected, and it is never too early to make sure your loved ones are protected. Even if you do not feel as if you have significant assets to leave behind, writing a will can make sure that your loved ones do not have to deal extensively with the probate courts after you are gone, which will save them time, money, and emotional stress.

Step 2: Consult with an Attorney

Some courts might accept a will that is drafted and signed without the involvement of an attorney. To make sure everything is above board, though, we strongly recommend speaking with an attorney who can help you make sure there are no issues with the probate courts after you are gone.

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As parents grow older, it is natural for families to experience a shift as children begin taking on more of a caretaking role. This shift can be a delicate process, and we have many clients come to us, asking whether it is wise to put their children in charge of their finances, estate, and affairs as they age. Today, we talk through some of the intricacies of this approach, recognizing that a different strategy will likely work for every family.

Power of Attorney

One way in which many parents give their children more responsibility is by making them “power of attorney,” authorizing their children to make decisions on their behalf. In Texas, a power of attorney can only act on behalf of an individual when explicitly authorized to do so.

Financially speaking, a power of attorney can manage a person’s business dealings if the individual wants someone else to take care of these dealings for them. In contrast, a medical power of attorney only becomes effective when an individual becomes incapacitated, allowing the power of attorney to make medical decisions in the individual’s best interest. Texas also offers the option of appointing a “limited power of attorney,” which allows individuals to appoint a power of attorney for one particular action, like purchasing a vehicle or handling tax-related matters.

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At McCulloch & Miller, we often speak with clients who struggle to find the motivation to begin their estate planning processes. Once we make clear to these clients just how important estate planning can be in Texas, their interest grows in getting started as soon as possible. With so much on the line, we try to emphasize to our clients that estate planning does not have to be difficult but that it is still an extremely important process that deserves their full attention.

What Is Estate Planning?

Importantly, estate planning is not only the process of creating a will. Estate planning allows you to protect your property and ensure that your assets are distributed exactly as you want them to be distributed in the event of your death. Estate planning can include drafting wills, establishing trusts, naming beneficiaries, and designating a power of attorney in case of incapacitation. Estate planning can also help you figure out how to save money on taxes, which benefits you in the present as well as your loved ones in the future.

What Happens Without an Estate Plan?

In Texas, when a person dies, his or her loved ones must go through the probate process so that a court can determine how to divide up his or her assets. Without estate planning documents on hand, this process can be costly, drawn out, and draining. The lack of a solid estate plan can also lead to high levels of tension among family members while the court tries to determine how to divide the decedent’s money and property.

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As many of our clients can tell you, estate planning in Texas is different than estate planning in any other state. Every state has its own laws and way of doing things, and it is important to understand your state’s policies as you undergo your own estate planning process. As experts in estate planning at McCulloch & Miller, we understand the system in Texas and its implications for our clients. Below, we review several state-specific estate-planning laws that could be helpful for you.

The Intestate Succession Process

In Texas, those who die without a will are generally subject to the intestate succession process. Essentially, this means that the court will divvy the individual’s money and property to the decedent’s closest family members. In our state, this means that the spouse inherits first. If there is no spouse, priority goes to the children. If there are no children, priority goes to the parents, then to the siblings. If none of these relatives have survived the decedent, the assets will go to the next of kin, whoever that might be.

Community Property

If you purchased property with your spouse during your marriage, that property is considered “community property.” It will therefore go to your spouse upon your death. Property that you inherited (as opposed to having been acquired with your spouse) is often an exception to this rule.

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One of the most frustrating aspects of estate planning can be having to pay out a percentage of assets to the government or to others who have a claim on your estate. In Texas, tax implications depend on the estate strategy that you choose. Today, we review some of the tax implications of estate planning with an eye toward minimizing tax liability.

What is an Estate Tax?

Texas is one of 38 states that does not require residents to pay an estate tax. In states without this benefit, an individual’s estate will have to pay a certain percentage of their assets to the state government upon that person’s death. This is good news: by living in Texas, you already avoid a tax that residents of some other states will have to pay.

Texans do, however, still pay a federal estate tax. This kind of tax can be generally broken up into three different taxes: the estate tax, the gift tax, and the generation-skipping transfer tax.

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Finding out you are the beneficiary in a decedent’s will can be a small dose of good news in the midst of experiencing grief and in the process of adjusting to life without your loved one. Sometimes, though, a decedent’s beneficiaries are not negatively affected by the death of the person that leaves assets to their name. In this case, the law calls this particular kind of beneficiary a “laughing heir.”

A laughing heir is a beneficiary who was distantly related to the decedent and likely has very little reason to be saddened by that person’s death. If a decedent leaves behind no spouse, children, siblings, or parents, for example, he or she might have chosen to give their assets to a relative that he or she did not know very well.

If the decedent died without a will or estate plan, the probate court might divide his or her assets using the law of intestacy – this essentially means that the decedent’s closest living relatives will inherit his or her assets. When the closest living relatives are distant relatives, those relatives might be considered laughing heirs.

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As you go about your estate planning process, you will necessarily think about who you want to be the beneficiary or beneficiaries of your assets. If you are leaving behind money for your children, you have worked hard to earn that money and keep it safe for future generations in your family. If you have a child with poor money management skills, then you might be worried that the money will be spent frivolously. In this blog post, we go over a few ways you can protect estate assets from heirs who might be at risk for depleting assets you leave behind.

Option One: Spendthrift Provisions

One solution to the problem of untrustworthy beneficiaries is creating a trust with a “spendthrift provision.” This kind of provision essentially puts limits on how a beneficiary can use the money he or she inherits in a trust. For example, you can explicitly state that you only want a beneficiary to benefit from a trust if he or she is gainfully employed. You can write that the money is only to be used for specific purposes, such as rent, utilities, or car payments. You can also give restricted deposits so that the beneficiary does not receive too much money from a given payment.

Setting up spendthrift provisions requires specificity in order to eliminate the risk that the provision can be interpreted in ways that are different from how you intended. Contacting a qualified attorney to help create your spendthrift provision is always a good idea.

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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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