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Dallas Estate Planning Law Blog

Developing a will helps surviving family members

When it comes to talking about creating a will, many people in Texas may shy away from the subject and prefer to talk about more lighthearted topics. Putting together a will, however, is essential for making sure that one’s earthly possessions are passed on to the right individuals when one dies. It also helps to prevent discord among surviving family members -- discord that can alter family relationships permanently.

Research shows that more than half of people don’t have a will. In addition to directing family and friends on how to distribute one’s personal items in the event of one’s death, it can also provide hope and encouragement. It is also wise to create a health care power of attorney, a document that spells out who can make health care decisions on a person’s behalf if the person can’t communicate on his or her own.

Estate planning is important for both small and large estates

Estate planning in Texas is an essential tool to distribute your estate, no matter how large or small, in the way that you want and to the people that you choose. Complications can arise if one does not put estate planning into place. For example, bickering among relatives may occur after death where there is nothing to guide them as to your intentions.

Lack of planning can also cause added frustration during difficult times. In one’s last illness, for example, without the proper living will and healthcare directive drawn up, your people will not have the authority to assist or direct the physicians regarding medical determinations. With the living will, one can tell the medical providers what to do regarding artificial means of life extension.

After moving, one should review estate planning documents

When moving from one state to another, it’s wise to have estate planning documents checked for compliance with the new state’s laws. Although most of those estate planning documents should remain effective in a move, it’s nonetheless prudent to have everything reviewed in the context of the procedures and laws in the new state. The old saying, “When in Rome do as the Romans do,” may actually make some sense in this situation. Therefore, if the move is to Texas, it’s recommended to find out how it’s done here.

For example, the format and legal references in many documents, such as a living will, are usually written and phrased according to each state’s preferences and laws. Although this will probably not affect the legality of one’s living will from another state, it may cause confusion and result in a waste of time at some inauspicious future time. Furthermore, there are different legal requirements from state to state for such documents.

Personal representative must access decedent's digital assets

In Texas and all other states, the extensive use of online services by the average person has led to a need for the estate of a deceased person to be able to access that person’s online digital assets. That need has given birth to organizations concerned with addressing the issue. Just recently, a lawyers’ commission completed and introduced the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act. When a person dies and probate is forthcoming, the passage of this or similar legislation will provide a framework to guide the estate’s personal representative with respect to the decedent’s digital assets.

When a person dies, if there is a will, it is presented to the appropriate court for probate. A personal representative, appointed in the will, acts on behalf of the decedent to collect all assets, pay all bills, and make final distributions to the specified beneficiaries named in the will. If there is no will, things go a bit differently and they must follow what is called the intestate laws. These laws basically take the choices out of the decedent’s prerogative and give instead a statutory framework for asset distribution.

In estate planning, legal directives execute the maker's wishes

Because an estate plan in Texas and elsewhere consists of a variety of “legal instruments” that must pass muster under state law, it’s best to give up any thoughts of doing them yourself. Consider working with professionals to get your estate planning done as a classic ‘team effort’ geared toward accuracy and legal compliance. It’s true that estate planning also seeks to maximize the value of the estate’s assets, and to minimize tax drains, and these efforts are included in the process.

The power of attorney is usually an indispensable tool in the arsenal of estate planning documents. This is a document in which a person, the principal, confers a certain authority in a second person, an agent, for the agent to sign the principal’s name and to do basic acts of business and conduct affairs on behalf of the principal. The power of attorney can authorize a wide range of actions, and it should be drawn up to carefully designate which powers are being conferred.

Estate planning allows targeted action regarding children

One important benefit of estate planning in Texas concerns the treatment of minor children. By proper estate planning, people can say who will take care of their children if the need should arise, and they can also appoint a trustee for the money and assets left for the children. If this is not done prior to death by will or even in life through living trusts, the court may appoint a guardian to exercise custody over minor children and a guardian or conservator to take control of the children’s money.

If a person does not provide for the desired appointments to take care of the children’s needs, going through court proceedings to have persons appointed can be long and expensive, especially if disputes or conflicts arise. Indeed, the court does not always appoint someone whom the disabled person, the decedent or the family would approve. A court appointee is often a stranger who has no background in understanding the decedent’s life or circumstances. A court appointee does not always turn out to be an entirely helpful influence in the process.

Business owner may need estate planning with funding

A perception exists, in Texas and elsewhere, that estate planning is about avoiding taxes, but in fact it goes beyond that into even more fundamental issues of how to preserve and protect one’s estate. With respect to federal estate taxes, currently a married couple must have a combined estate over $10.6 million before exposure to a federal estate tax. Additionally, an individual should worry about income taxes during life prior to considering estate planning for a death tax. Income tax rates for a business owner, for example, can be as much as 50 percent under certain circumstances.

For a business person, it is the business during life that is the number one concern – it must be preserved in several key ways, or there will be no estate to plan. Where a small business is dependent on its founder, his or her disability or inactivity can depreciate the value of the business quickly. Thus, it is vital in many cases for the person preparing an estate plan to first focus on insurance and risk management so that the estate corpus can be protected from destruction.

Estate planning today also accounts for digital assets

In Texas and worldwide, the technology revolution has caused many old paradigms to fall away in the face of changing abilities and opportunities. In estate planning, a new area of digital assets is becoming more defined, while rules and procedures to appropriately process these assets during life and after death are developing. The estate planning process now includes making sure that one provides for the administration of his or her digital assets as well as the more traditional ones.

Some digital assets may have sentimental value only, whereas others may have economic worth. They may include photographs, personal poetry or books, family histories and ancestral trees, along with online bank accounts, PayPal accounts and other financial records. Other assets may include social media pages, domain names, bill payment services and records, email records and other miscellaneous items.

How is estate planning different for women?

Men and women alike could benefit from estate planning. The tools and strategies available for men and women are roughly the same, but there are often special elements in estate planning for Texas women to consider for retirement. A report by the United States Census Bureau suggests that the amount of widowed women over the age of 65 is at 36 percent.

One item to consider is that women are prone to outlive men and fail to notice what may happen if their family or husbands die, especially since only 12 percent of men who are over the age of 65 are widows. Women are often in a challenging situation in retirement if a majority of the income was from the husband and retirement benefits end upon the husband’s death. Women may want to look into their income when creating their estate plan, including death benefits and possible VA benefits.

Same-sex estate planning in Texas

Whether a person is single or married, an estate plan is an important tool to ensure that wishes are carried out after death. Understandably, many Texas couples choose to have their spouses listed in their estate. Same-sex couples, however, may have complications when it comes to creating their estate plans.

Since laws are different, depending on their jurisdiction, same-sex couples may find it challenging when planning their finances. In these jurisdictions, there may be different labels for the couples, such as domestic partnerships or same-sex civil unions. It’s recommended that couple keeps accurate financial records and enter into prenuptial agreements, just in case divorce should happen in the future.

Our Office Locations

The Livens Law Firm
2516 Harwood Road
Bedford (Fort Worth), TX 76021
Phone: 817-545-3425
Toll Free: 800-569-2663
Fax: 817-545-9847
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Austin Office
3 Lakeway Centre Court
Suite 120
Austin, TX 78734
Phone: 800-569-2663
Fax: 888-545-9847
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Addison Office
14135 Midway Rd.
Suite G-250
Addison, TX 75001
Phone: 972-685-5202
Fax: 972-685-5606
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