Estate Planning Attorney Serving Clients in Houston TX and Surrounding areas with Wills, Trusts and Powers of Attorney.
While nobody wants to think about death or disability, establishing an estate plan is one of the most important steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones. Proper estate planning not only puts you in charge of your finances, it can also spare your loved ones of the expense, delay and frustration associated with managing your affairs when you pass away or become disabled.
Providing for Incapacity in Texas
If you become incapacitated, you won’t be able to manage your own financial affairs. Many are under the mistaken impression that their spouse or adult children can automatically take over for them in case they become incapacitated. The truth is that in order for others to be able to manage your finances, they must petition a court to declare you legally incompetent. This process can be lengthy, costly and stressful. Even if the court appoints the person you would have chosen, they may have to come back to the court every year and show how they are spending and investing each and every penny. If you want your family to be able to immediately take over for you, you must designate a person or persons that you trust in proper legal documents so that they will have the authority to withdraw money from your accounts, pay bills, take distributions from your IRAs, sell stocks, and refinance your home. A will does not take effect until you die and a power of attorney may be insufficient.
In addition to planning for the financial aspect of your affairs during incapacity, you should establish a plan for your medical care. The law allows you to appoint someone you trust - for example, a family member or close friend to make decisions on your behalf about medical treatment options if you lose the ability to decide for yourself. You can do this by using a durable power of attorney for health care where you designate the person to make such decisions. In addition to a power of attorney for heath care, you should also have a living will which informs others of your preferred medical treatments such as the use of extraordinary measures should you become permanently unconscious or terminally ill.
Avoiding Probate in Texas
if you leave your estate to your loved ones using a will, everything you own will pass through probate. The process is expensive, time-consuming and open to the public. The probate court is in control of the process until the estate has been settled and distributed. If you are married and have children, you want to make certain that your surviving family has immediate access to cash to pay for living expenses while your estate is being settled. It is not unusual for the probate courts to freeze assets for weeks or even months while trying to determine the proper disposition of the estate. Your surviving spouse may be forced to apply to the probate court for needed cash to pay current living expenses. You can imagine how stressful this process can be. With proper planning, your assets can pass on to your loved ones without undergoing probate, in a manner that is quick, inexpensive and private.
Providing for Minor Children in Texas
It is important that your estate plan address issues regarding the upbringing of your children. If your children are young, you may want to consider implementing a plan that will allow your surviving spouse to devote more attention to your children, without the burden of work obligations. You may also want to provide for special counseling and resources for your spouse if you believe they lack the experience or ability to handle financial and legal matters. You should also discuss with your attorney the possibility of both you and your spouse dying simultaneously, or within a short duration of time. A contingency plan should provide for persons you’d like to manage your assets as well as the guardian you’d like to nominate for the upbringing of your children. The person, or trustee in charge of the finances need not be the same person as the guardian. In fact, in many situations, you may want to purposely designate different persons to maintain a system of checks and balances. Otherwise, the decision as to who will manage your finances and raise your children will be left to a court of law. Even if you are lucky enough to have the person or persons you would have wanted selected by the court, they may have undue burdens and restrictions placed on them by the court, such as having to provide annual accounting.
Other issues to consider in this respect is whether you’d like your beneficiaries to receive your assets directly, or whether you’d prefer to have the assets placed in trust and distributed based a number of factors which you designate, such as age, need and even incentives based on behavior and education. All too often, children receive substantial assets before they are mature enough to handle them properly, with devastating results.
You should give careful thought to your choice of guardian, ensuring that he or she shares the values you want instilled in your children. You will also want to give consideration to the age and financial condition of a potential guardian. Some guardians may lack child-rearing skills you feel are necessary. Make sure that your plan does not create an additional financial burden for the guardian.
Planning for Death (Estate) Taxes
The IRS will want to review your estate at death to ensure you don’t owe them that one final tax: the federal estate tax. Whether there will be any tax to pay depends on the size of your estate and how your estate plan works. Many states have their own separate estate and inheritance taxes that you need to be aware of. There are many effective strategies that can be implemented to reduce or eliminate death taxes, but you must start the planning process early in order to implement many of these plans.
A well-crafted estate plan should provide for your loved ones in an effective and efficient manner by avoiding guardianship during your lifetime, probate at death, estate taxes and unnecessary delays. You should consult a qualified estate planning attorney to review your family and financial situation, your goals and explain the various options available to you. Once your estate plan is in place, you will have peace of mind knowing that you have provided for yourself and your family in case the worst happens.
Helping Older Individuals Nearing Retirement
Nancy Stone, JD, MPH, Attorney at Law can help you understand the available options and make informed decisions regarding your estate planning including establishing Wills and Trusts.
Estate Planning Attorney Nancy Stone has more than 15 years' experience in health law and policy, public health, and elder care issues, including Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. She has the knowledge and experience necessary to obtain your legal goals and quality care, while protecting your hard-earned financial assets.
Estate Planning for Parents with Young Children
Many parents put off estate planning because they do not think they have substantial assets to protect. This outlook is common among young adults who think they have plenty of time to accumulate wealth and plan for it at a later date. However, in failing to create a proper estate plan, many parents cannot adequately protect their children. All parents, with or without a great deal of assets should have an estate plan in place to set forth their wishes for their children which includes, among other things, nomination of a guardian in the event that they have an untimely passing while the child is still a minor.
In your estate plan, you can appoint a guardian (also known as a conservator) for your children upon your passing. If there is no plan in place, the court will appoint a guardian to raise your children based on what it deems to be in the best interest of your children. Unfortunately, the court appointed guardian may not be your first choice and in some cases, he or she may actually be your last choice. From just a few brief hearings, it is often impossible for the courts to determine who is best suited to care for your children in your absence.
In some cases, where no clear-cut guardian is named, children may be sent to Child Protective Services to remain with a foster family until the court decides on a suitable guardian to take on the responsibility. For many parents, this scenario is reason enough to create an estate plan to protect their children.
Nominating a guardian can be a very difficult decision and one that should not be made without serious consideration. The individual selected should provide stability for your children in the difficult transition and ultimately continue care in a fashion with which you are comfortable. You should consider the following traits and circumstances when determining who is best suited to raise your children:
Age: You will want to make sure they are old enough to provide proper care (at least 18 years of age in most states) but young enough to remain in good health until your children reach adulthood.
Commitment: Ensure that the guardian does in fact want to take on this responsibility.
Temperaments: Carefully consider what kind of person will mesh well with your children. If you have young or energetic children, you may want to make sure the guardian exhibits patience.
Religious and moral beliefs: Do they share the same values as you and your spouse? Would they instill these in your children?
Nature of existing relationship with children: You will want to make sure that this person has a good bond with your children and that there is a mutual comfort level.
Location: If you prefer that your children not move out of their current home and/or school district, you will want to make sure that the appointed guardian resides close to you and intends to stay there until your child reaches the age of majority.
Does proposed guardian have other children? If so, does the guardian have enough time and resources to devote to his/her own children in addition to yours?
Finances: Can the candidate financially provide for your child if there are not enough funds available from your estate?
In the event that the guardian you have selected in your estate plan is unable to raise your children upon your passing, you should have two alternates who also meet the aforementioned criteria. This will ensure that your children are left in the hands of trusted relatives or friends and not in the court system.
If you have multiple children and would like to appoint different guardians to raise them separately, you may also outline multiple guardian appointments in your estate plan, however, this situation is generally not regarded as ideal for close siblings.
All appointed guardians must ultimately be approved by the court at the time of the parents’ passing. If a biological parent is still living, they will usually be named the guardian of the children unless evidence is presented that this individual is unfit to provide care to the children in question.
Trusts for Minors
In general, if an individual dies without an estate plan, his or her assets are distributed according to a formula determined by the state. In most instances, these laws pass wealth to both the surviving spouse and children. A properly crafted estate plan gives you control over this distribution allowing you to provide for specific people you designate and at the right time. It is recommended that all parents of minor children create a trust that is designed to safeguard the inheritance for their children. Such a trust gives you the ability to outline how much money your children will receive, the age at which they will receive the inheritance and to an extent how they are to spend this money. This allows you to designate funds for their college educations and give them their inheritance at a certain age, ensuring that they don’t waste their inheritance on fancy cars as soon as they turn eighteen years old. The trust can also protect against potential creditors or even divorce.
Trust funds can also be used to provide support to your children until they reach the age at which they may receive their inheritance. In your estate plan, you must also name a trustee who can ensure this money is handled properly. It is important to note that the trustee may be different from the guardian selected in your estate plan. This is recommended if the guardian is good with children but not with money.
Trusts are important in that they ensure you still retain control over your wealth after your death in effect giving you greater control of your children’s futures. Trusts allow you to set aside funds for a surviving spouse ensuring that your children will be provided for even if your partner is not wise with money or remarries. Furthermore, a trust allows you to outline how the trustee is to budget funds for each child. If you have one child who has a special need or requires additional training to develop a talent, your trust may outline these appropriations. This is particularly important if you have a child with physical or mental disabilities who may require significant care beyond his or her 18th birthday.
Children are often the greatest assets that parents have and an integral part of the estate planning process. Your children’s well-being is only ensured with proper planning and while most parents hate to think about leaving their children before they are adults, it is essential that this possibility be considered and an effective plan formulated. If you have not yet created a plan that adequately provides for your children, we encourage you to contact our knowledgeable estate planning attorneys today.